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Saltern v. HNI Corp.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 9, 2019

KAREN H. SALTERN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
HNI CORPORATION and GALLAGHER BASSETT SERVICES, INC., Defendants-Appellees.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Muscatine County, John D. Telleen, Judge.

         An employee who brought a bad-faith claim against her employer appeals the denial of her motion for partial summary judgment and the grant of the employer's motion for summary judgment.

          Anthony J. Bribriesco, Andrew W. Bribriesco, and William J. Bribriesco, Bettendorf, for appellant.

          Amanda M. Richards of Betty, Neuman & McMahon, P.L.C., Davenport, for appellees.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Greer, JJ.

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         After years of repetitive sewing for a furniture manufacturer, Karen Saltern developed bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and asked her employer, HNI Corporation, to pay workers' compensation. HNI and its third-party claims administrator, Gallagher Bassett Services, disputed the injury rose out of and in the course of her employment. Several years later, they agreed to pay her claim, based on medical opinions the carpal tunnel syndrome was a work-related injury.

         Saltern sued HNI and Gallagher for bad faith in denying her claim. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court decided Saltern could not prove the first bad-faith element-that the employer lacked a reasonable basis for denying benefits. The court ruled HNI was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[1]Saltern appeals that ruling. Finding no legal error in the court's conclusions, we affirm summary judgment dismissing Saltern's claims against HNI.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Saltern worked as a technical sewer for HNI at its furniture manufacturing plant. HNI is self-insured and contracts with Gallagher to administer its workers' compensation claims.

         In 2009, Saltern suffered a work-related injury to her neck, which HNI paid. In March 2011, Saltern saw a medical provider complaining of pain, numbness, and weakness in her neck, shoulder, and arms. Further testing led to the diagnosis of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. HNI was unaware Saltern went to these appointments until May, when Saltern requested approval to see a pain specialist.

         In June, Saltern filed a new workers' compensation claim alleging she experienced injuries on the job. That same month, HNI-through Gallagher- asked Saltern to provide information on her doctor visits. But after the employer made many phone calls and propounded discovery requests, the providers still had sent no medical records. HNI denied the compensability of her claim in July 2011. But in a letter to Saltern's counsel, HNI said it was continuing its investigation, "including hopefully obtaining medical records once we have learned from you with whom Ms. Saltern has been treating."

         In September, Saltern saw a pain specialist who diagnosed her with cervical radiculopathy resulting from the 2009 injury. But the specialist concluded the carpal tunnel did not stem from the same incident.

         In April 2012, Saltern voluntarily dismissed her claim. HNI continued to seek proof of Saltern's injury, including placing eight unanswered calls to her primary provider, Dr. Calvin Atwell. Six months later, Saltern refiled her claim. HNI again denied the claim in mid-October 2012. In her testimony, Saltern acknowledged she was unaware of any ...


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