What Do You Think: Was Egg Stacker’s Back Pain due to Work?

Frank Ferreri

Des Moines, IA (WorkersCompensation.com) — While repetitive lifting and carrying at work might take its toll on the lower back, it won’t rule out that something else is causing the pain.

As an Iowa court recently addressed, documenting what a worker reports about his pain can make the difference in an argument that an injury had a work-related cause.

Prior to beginning his employment, an egg stacker for an egg company was in a car accident and injured his lower back. Following surgery, the egg stacker resumed his normal activities, including basketball and cage boxing. Every few months, the egg stacker would have flare-ups of sciatic and back pain, which he treated with muscle relaxers and opiate medications.

The egg stacker’s job involved repetitive lifting, twisting, and carrying packed egg cases to stack on a pallet.

After showing up for a shift at work, the egg stacker left after less than an hour due to “personal reasons,” but he also reported having “sharper leg pains” that worsened through the day and night. On the next day, the egg stacker received a positive evaluation and was to get a raise. On that day, he told his supervisor he was experiencing pain because he had “slept wrong” and also told the facility manager that he had fallen while mowing his lawn and injured his back.

On the following day, the egg stacker visited urgent care for pain that he reported was typical of one of his flare-ups. He then submitted a doctor’s note to the company seeking medical leave and said it was because he “fell in a hole while he was mowing the lawn,” The company granted him leave for two weeks, but when the egg stacker did not submit another doctor’s note at the end of the leave period and did not return to work, the company terminated his employment.

Following his termination, the egg stacker sought workers’ compensation benefits, alleging back and body-as-a-whole injuries from repetitive work activities. The deputy commissioner rejected his claim, concluding that the egg stacker’s testimony, evidence, and medical records showed that he was not credible. In the deputy commissioner’s view, the egg stacker had a preexisting lumbar spine condition.

The egg stacker appealed, and a workers’ compensation commissioner agreed with the deputy, prompting the egg stacker to appeal to court. In court, the egg stacker fared no better, and the court concluded that the commissioner’s decision was supported by substantial evidence.

The egg stacker appealed to the next level in court, arguing that he experienced a work injury.

Under Iowa law, an injury must “arise out of” and “in the course of” the worker’s employment. An injury “arises out of” the employment if a causal connection exists between the employment and the injury and arises “in the course of” employment when the injury and the employment coincide as to time, place, and circumstances.

Did the egg stacker’s injury arise out of and in the course of his employment?

A. Yes. The nature of the egg stacker’s work, which involved repeatedly bending, lifting, and twisting established his injury.

B. No. The egg stacker had a preexisting injury that flared up and was caused by nonwork related issues.

If you chose B, you agreed with the court in Tew v. Sparboe Farms Inc., No. 20-1202 (Iowa Ct. App. 10/06/21), which upheld the previous decisions in the egg stacker’s case finding in the company’s favor. The court highlighted that the egg stacker reported non-employment-related causes of his injuries, including that he “slept wrong” and fell while cutting grass.

“The commissioner’s finding of fact that he ‘failed to present sufficiently credible testimony to establish his injury occurred as a result of his work activities’ is supported by substantial evidence in the record,” the court wrote. “We affirm the commissioner’s findings and the district court ruling upholding the commissioner’s decision.”

This feature does not provide legal advice.

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