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Loparex, L.L.C. v. Bates

Court of Appeal of Iowa

September 5, 2013

LOPAREX, L.L.C. and SENTRY INSURANCE, Plaintiff-Appellants,
v.
JAMES BATES, Defendant-Appellee.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Carla T. Schemmel, Judge.

An employer and its insurer ask us to review a workers' compensation decision in favor of an injured employee.

Michael S. Roling of Peddicord, Wharton, Spencer, Hook, Barron & Wegman, L.L.P., West Des Moines, for appellants.

William G. Nicholson of Rush & Nicholson, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellee.

Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and Bower, JJ.

VAITHESWARAN, J.

We are asked to review a workers' compensation decision in favor of an injured employee.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

James Bates was employed by Loparex, L.L.C., a company that manufactures double-sided tapes as well as roofing and pharmaceutical supplies. He was injured when his left hand got caught in a machine.

Bates underwent several surgeries that resulted in the amputation of two fingers. He developed "complex regional pain syndrome, " characterized by temperature changes in his hand and muscle wasting. He also experienced abnormal sensations and sensitivity to touch. A byproduct of his hand injury was severe depression. Physicians prescribed a variety of medications for these conditions. Bates contended these medications made him drowsy.

Bates filed a petition for workers' compensation benefits. Following an evidentiary hearing, a deputy workers' compensation commissioner concluded that Bates was entitled to permanent total disability benefits. The commissioner affirmed that portion of the decision, as did the district court on judicial review.

On appeal, Loparex and its insurer, Sentry Insurance, argue that (1) "the commissioner erred in finding claimant's complaints of drowsiness are causally related to the work injury" and (2) "the commissioner erred in awarding claimant permanent total disability benefits." Our review of these issues is for substantial evidence. See Iowa Code § 17A.19(10)(f) (2011). This standard does not allow us to "engage in a scrutinizing analysis." Neal v. Annett Holdings, Inc., 814 N.W.2d 512, 525 (Iowa 2012).

II. Drowsiness—Causation

One of the key fact questions before the commissioner was whether Bates's drowsiness was caused by the medications he took to address his work-related injuries or by non-work-related factors. The deputy commissioner resolved this question in favor of Bates, finding he had "severe problems with . . . somnolence" and, "according to the medical experts, [the condition] may relate to sleep apnea, obesity, or alcohol abuse, but the weight of that opinion convinces that Bates's extensive medication regimen is a substantial contributing factor." The deputy emphasized that the medication "need not be the sole factor in order to trigger liability." He also noted that despite Bates's lack of credibility in some of ...


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