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Plumrose USA and Zurich Ins. Co. v. Hathaway

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 23, 2014

PLUMROSE USA and ZURICH INS. CO., Petitioners-Appellants,
v.
ROBERT HATHAWAY, Respondent-Appellee

Editorial Note:

This decision has been referenced in a "Decisions Without Published Opinions" table in the North Western Reporter.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County, Greg W. Steensland, Judge. Employer appeals the district court's affirmance of the agency decision awarding employee temporary disability, and permanent disability benefits.

Sara A. Lamme and Tiernan T. Siems of Erickson & Sederstrom, Omaha, Nebraska, for appellants.

Jacob J. Peters of Peters Law Firm, Council Bluffs, for appellee.

Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Mullins and McDonald, JJ.

OPINION

MULLINS, J.

Plumrose USA and Zurich Insurance (Plumrose) appeal the district court's affirmance of the Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner's decision awarding Plumrose's employee, Robert Hathaway, temporary disability and permanent disability benefits. On appeal Plumrose argues the commissioner's finding that Robert's need for a total knee replacement arose out of and in the course of his employment is not supported by substantial evidence. Plumrose also argues the commissioner's award of temporary disability benefits and permanent impairment benefits was not supported by substantial evidence. We affirm the decision of the commissioner.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS.

At the time of the workers' compensation arbitration, Hathaway was fifty-seven years old and had worked for most of his life as a maintenance mechanic. He began working for Plumrose as a maintenance mechanic in 2000. In the course of that employment he performed repairs on the industrial equipment used by Plumrose. In 2005 he was promoted to lead man and held this position at the time of the injury to his right knee in January 2009.

Prior to January 2009, Hathaway had undergone three right knee surgeries. He also had numerous cortisone injections in his knee, and an x-ray showed " bone on bone" arthritis. Hathaway testified that before the accident he had no permanent impairment or permanent restrictions to his right knee. Hathaway also testified he was told prior to January of 2009 he would need a total knee replacement (TKR) of his right knee at some time in the future.

The cause of Hathaway's workplace injury in this appeal is not in dispute. During his shift, Hathaway exited the plant and fell down a flight of exterior stairs. Earlier in the day a maintenance worker had washed floor mats on the stairs, leaving them covered in a coat of ice. Immediately after the fall, Hathaway radioed for help. An employee drove him to the local hospital where he was evaluated. The evaluating physician ordered an MRI of Hathaway's knee. The MRI revealed a medial meniscus tear in the right knee, a chronic ACL tear, and patella tendon tear. The physician referred Hathaway to an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Goebel. Dr. Goebel recommended conservative care, which proved unsuccessful. TKR was then discussed as a treatment option.

In a May 2009 letter, Dr. Goebel indicated that Hathaway was a candidate for a total knee replacement. Dr. Goebel noted that Hathaway suffered from chronic osteoarthritis and the work injury aggravated the osteoarthritis. In June, an independent medical evaluator, Dr. Gammel, reviewed Hathaway's records. In a letter, Dr. Gammel opined that Hathaway would have required the TKR prior to the injury in January 2009. He also noted that the injury was a substantial factor in the need for a TKR. Subsequently, in a July letter, Dr. Goebel clarified his previous opinion and stated that there was no way of knowing when Hathaway would have required the TKR, absent the occurrence of the fall down the icy staircase. Relying on Dr. Goebel's July letter, in August, Plumrose denied Hathaway's claim for benefits. In September, Dr. Goebel performed the TKR on Hathaway's right knee. Hathaway returned to work with no restrictions in December 2009.

In a September 2010 letter, Dr. Goebel opined Hathaway's right TKR was directly related to Hathaway's acute exacerbation of his chronic knee arthritis. Dr. Goebel found Hathaway had a 50% permanent impairment to his right leg. He also affirmed the opinions of his May 2009 letter. Hathaway testified he has limitations in his range of motion in his right leg. Hathaway believes he lost approximately 25% of his strength in his ...


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