Erin and the Iowa Supreme Court
By Kelly Sargent
Rob Tucker, the original founder of Tucker Law is proud of his law partner, Erin Tucker . . . who also happens to be his daughter.
Though I'm not related, I have to admit that I’m proud of her too. In case you haven't met Erin, she is a genuinely kind, a quality that seems to be in increasingly short supply these days. She’s also what I would describe as quietly fierce on behalf of her clients. She’s so calm and even tempered that I don’t think her opponents see her coming — which I think is one of the reasons she’s so successful.
Erin has taken a workers’ compensation case all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court on behalf of a client.
Here’s the back story.
Workers' compensation is a form of insurance put into place in Iowa in 1913 that provides wage replacement and medical benefits to employees injured in the course of employment. Over time, injuries to certain designated parts of the body were listed on a schedule with a maximum amount of allowable compensation for the injury. For example, the benefits a worker who has lost hearing in both ears is entitled to are capped at a predetermined amount, and so on for all the other listed part of the body.
Below is the list designated body part injuries before 2017.
Injuries not listed on the schedule are considered to be injuries to the body as a whole, and the resulting disability is not limited by the schedule but determined instead by how much the injury affects the worker’s future earning capacity, and generally result in greater compensation. A shoulder injury had not previously been on the capped-benefits list, but in 2017 the Iowa Legislature passed a law that added shoulder to the list, limiting the amount of compensation.
In 2018 a worker who suffered an on-the-job shoulder injury came to Erin. Due to lack of education and language difficulties, the worker's opportunities have always been limited to manual labor. Having a disabled shoulder made that work impossible. (All evaluations of injury status, movement limitations and ability to work are all made by doctors and physical therapists.)
According to the list, which by that time included shoulder, the insurance company argued her injury was isolated and she was only entitled to a fixed amount of benefits instead of compensation based on how her life and ability to earn a living have been and will continue to be effected.
Erin took the case to trial, and the ruling was in her client’s favor, However, in September of 2020 the Iowa Workers’ Compensation commissioner reversed the lower judge’s decision and ruled that the injury was a “shoulder” injury, limiting Erin’s client to less benefits, and subsequent cases have been decided the same way.
Erin disagreed with the commissioner, appealed the ruling, and the Iowa Supreme Court agreed to review the case.
Here’s why that’s a big deal:
The Iowa Supreme Court decides cases that involve legal issues of substantial constitutional issues and issues of great public policy importance, and its decisions become case law that lower courts must follow. That means if the ISC were to decide in Erin’s client’s favor, it would change the law for everyone with a shoulder injury going forward and possibly previous shoulder-injury workers if they have appealed a ruling against them.
And so on February 23 Erin argued her client’s case before the ISC. It will be at least another month before the court releases it’s decision. Fingers crossed.
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