Attorney Lori Utsinger obtained a landmark victory on behalf of employers and insurance carriers regarding workers’ compensation shoulder injuries. In 2017, the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Statute was modified and placed the shoulder as a scheduled member rather than being a body as a whole injury. This change in the law modified what an employee could potentially receive in permanent partial disability benefits, including future review reopening benefits. Under the old law, body as a whole injuries were subject to 500 weeks under an industrial disability analysis which considered Claimant’s overall loss of earning capacity. Now, under the new law, shoulder injuries would be limited to functional impairment applied to 400 weeks.
In Chavez v. MS Technology, the central dispute was whether a rotator cuff injury should be a shoulder scheduled member or body as a whole injury. Utsinger successfully argued that the Iowa Legislature intended to place the shoulder on the scheduled member and that the common sense definition of the shoulder would include the anatomy which made the shoulder joint move, the rotator cuff. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed and expressly rejected Claimant’s argument that the rotator cuff should be a body as a whole injury because the muscles and tendons happened to attach proximally to the shoulder joint.
This was a first impression case that now establishes the shoulder properly as a scheduled member giving definitive guidance to employers and insurance carriers as to their exposure for new shoulder injuries as well a reducing exposure for permanent partial disability benefits.
The briefs, oral arguments, and ruling can be found HERE.