Des Moines, IA (WorkersCompensation.com) – Pain is subjective, but medical evidence can give a degree of certainty on whether an injured worker’s symptoms are legitimate or overstated.
In Rizvic v. Titan Tire Corporation, No. 20-1133 (Iowa Ct. App. 05/12/21), because a litany of doctors’ reports expressed concerns that a tire builder was embellishing his claims of pain, the court determined that he wasn’t eligible for benefits.
While working, the builder’s hand touched exposed wires, causing an electrocution that resulted in discoloration of the builder’s right hand and left foot. The builder stayed in the hospital for two days, and when he was released, he had a full range of motion and “normal EKG and cardiac markers” but wasn’t cleared to return to work.
At an evaluation several days later, the builder complained of weakness, pain, numbness, headaches, and an inability to turn his head. Nonetheless, the doctor could not find “anything seriously wrong” and prescribed medication and physical therapy.
The builder did not take the medication, but he was released to return to work with lifting restrictions. The builder’s physical therapist noted that the builder’s symptoms were “inconsistent day to day with treatment provided” and that he showed “suspicious weakness.”
The builder continued to report having pain, and an MRI showed disk herniation while his primary care physician diagnosed him with hypertension and diabetes.
Later, the builder left work for a doctor’s appointment and did not return. Instead, he filed a petition for arbitration seeking workers’ compensation benefits. At a full orthopedic evaluation, a doctor noted “some evidence of symptom magnification.” This doctor placed the builder at maximum medical improvement with a lifting restriction.
The builder then underwent a functional capacity exam, and that doctor concluded that the builder had a “0 percent impairment rating.” A neurologist who later evaluated the builder noted “some suspected symptom embellishment.”
Another doctor concluded that the builder had a 30 percent to 49 percent impairment of the whole person and that the work the builder performed for the company was “a substantially causal, contributing, or aggravating factor.”
Yet another doctor included that the builder’s injuries were preexisting and not caused by the electrocution.
At the arbitration hearing, a deputy commissioner of the state’s workers’ compensation board concluded that the builder developed “a pain syndrome related to his electrocution at work.”
On review, the commissioner reversed the deputy’s decision, finding that the builder was not a credible witness. In court, the builder came up short as well. In turn, the builder appealed to the next level in court, arguing that he met the definition of “permanently disabled” under the law.
Under Iowa law, a worker seeking benefits must prove that the workplace injury caused the claimed disability.
In the builder’s case, the appeals court saw no problem with how the commissioner reviewed the evidence. While one of the doctors supported the builder’s assertions, the court noted “’numerous notations’ of symptom magnification or embellishment and inconsistencies.”
Given the amount of medical evidence indicating that the builder did not have a work-related injury, the appeals court held that the builder’s claims were not compensable and affirmed the commissioner’s and lower court’s rulings.