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Smithway Motor Xpress, Inc. v. McDermott

Court of Appeal of Iowa

November 20, 2013

SMITHWAY MOTOR XPRESS, INC., n/k/a WESTERN XPRESS, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
JAMES MCDERMOTT, Respondent-Appellee.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Mary Pat Gunderson, Judge.

Smithway Motor Xpress appeals the district court ruling affirming the workers' compensation commissioner's decision finding James McDermott had suffered a compensable workplace injury.

Maureen Roach Tobin and Ashleigh E. O'Connell of Whitefield & Eddy, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

Ryan T. Beattie of Beattie Law Firm, P.C., Des Moines, for appellee.

Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

BOWER, J.

Smithway Motor Xpress appeals the district court ruling affirming the workers' compensation commissioner's decision finding James McDermott had suffered a compensable workplace injury, which resulted in a forty percent permanent partial disability. Smithway argues the workers' compensation commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence; is the product of a process which failed to consider important evidence; and is the product of an irrational, illogical, or otherwise unreasonable decision making process. We find the commissioner considered all relevant evidence, the decision is supported by substantial evidence, and the commissioner engaged in a rational decision-making process.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

James McDermott is a former employee of Smithway Motor Xpress (Smithway). McDermott was employed by Smithway as a truck driver when he suffered an injury to his back on December 29, 2008. The injury was not reported to Smithway until January 15, 2009. McDermott was sent to see Dr. Epp who noted back pain and pain in the left SI joint. Dr. Epp suggested physical therapy and medication to treat the injury and asked to see McDermott two weeks later. None of these recommendations were followed. McDermott was offered work by Smithway that would accommodate his injury; however, McDermott turned down the offer because of impending medical leave due to an unrelated surgery.

On February 11, 2009, while on medical leave, McDermott saw his primary care physician, Dr. Kahn, complaining of lower back pain. Dr. Kahn noted the injury was an exacerbation of a preexisting condition caused by lifting weight at work. McDermott returned to work on February 18, 2009, and continued working for Smithway until he resigned.

McDermott began working for Amhof, another trucking company, on April 7, 2009. Before he could begin his employment at Amhof, he was required to file a medical examination report and engage in a department of transportation (DOT) physical. McDermott did not mention lower back pain on the report and the DOT physical did not note any back problems.[1] On May 19, 2009, McDermott returned to see Dr. Kahn for lower back pain. Dr. Kahn reexamined McDermott on July 30, 2009, and noted lower back pain and pain in the right SI joint. At this time Dr. Kahn referred McDermott to Dr. Pederson, who issued a report that noted a history of chronic low back pain worsening in the prior six months.

McDermott was examined by Dr. Neiman for purposes of an independent medical evaluation (IME) on June 17, 2010. The IME found a causal connection between McDermott's back problems and the December 29, 2008 workplace injury.

McDermott filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits, which proceeded to an arbitration hearing before Deputy Commissioner Walleser. The arbitration decision denied benefits because McDermott had failed to prove a causal connection between the December 29, 2008 incident and his ongoing symptoms. The deputy's decision was overturned on appeal by the workers' compensation commissioner who decided a causal connection had been established and McDermott was entitled to ...


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