Client Stories

Construction worker wins workers comp claim of back injury following construction accident

The sun was hot and the air was still as the 53-year-old Iowa man sorted 2,000 lbs. of steel at a culvert construction site along a Highway 92 overpass. Ken's job was to pull out 500-lb. bundles of steel at a time, hook each bundle to a crane, then rush down to the culvert to unhook them. In his more than ten years in construction in states from Colorado to Tennessee, Ken had never done this job without at least one other man helping. But this Iowa contractor said one man was enough, and Ken was on his own.

He was on his own when his back ripped, moments later.

"I tried to give the steel a jerk, to get it loose," he remembers. "I jerked my back instead. It hurt pretty bad, but I kept doing my job. But the next morning when I got up, I dropped to my knees. I couldn't do anything. My wife took me to the hospital, and that was the end of my career."

Ken's job-ending injury was so painful he simply couldn't do anything.

"It is estimated that 80% of the American population will experience at least one significant episode of low back pain during their adult lives," Dr. Donna Bahls, Metro Orthopedic Surgery, Clive, Iowa, says. "Most injuries will be due to over exertion of the spine beyond physical capability, such as lifting something too heavy. Many of those injuries may be the result of an aggravation of a pre-existing condition, since by age 40, 50% of us will have some degenerative changes of our spine."

Indeed, Ken's back had bothered him over the years, according to his attorney, Des Moines workers compensation lawyer Tom Palmer. "The authorized treating physician determined that he had pre-existing degenerative disc disease," Tom says. "However, the insurer accepted his claim as being work-related and we were able to resolve Ken's case through a mediation."

Ken's case was quite severe, Tom notes. Most times, employees can eventually return to work. "Back injuries may limit a person's ability to work, however, depending on the severity and the treatment process," he says. "Clearly, a person who has just had surgery should not be working immediately afterwards. Light duty, with temporary physical restrictions, may be necessary to promote healing or prevent re-injury. That release is obtained from the treating physician."

Tom has personal experience with back injuries: He injured his own five years ago. "If you have ever experienced a back injury or condition, you can appreciate how an injured worker's quality of life is impacted," he says. "When I hurt my back, it hurt to sit, walk and stand. It literally hurt to get out of bed in the morning. I spent months in a lot of pain. I couldn't do what I wanted to do. Finally, an epidural injection reduced the herniated disc and relieved the pain."

Ken wasn't so fortunate. "It still hurts today," he says. "I can't go bowling anymore. I can't pick up my grandkids. I'm only 56 years old, but I can't work. I loved construction and I loved traveling to work sites all over the country. Now I can't drive for more than an hour without getting out to walk around."

Ken says he was in good shape before the injury. "I was real strong and limber," he says. "There's nothing I could have done to prevent it. But the company could have prevented it. They could have put another guy on the job with me. You never would have seen that in Colorado or Tennessee. Those states have safety laws to protect workers. We had safety meetings in the morning. We had a safety director on the job site who would write you up if he saw you were in violation. The safety in Iowa isn't where it should be."

Now Ken spends his days watching the news and enjoying the company of his new puppy. "I'm going to have this the rest of my life," he says. "But I'm trying to stay positive. I'm letting the Lord lead me one day at a time."

Tom was glad he was able to help Ken with his claim, and urges anyone with a work-related injury to seek legal counsel immediately. "Work-related aggravation of the low back is very common. To succeed in your workers' comp claim, you have to show how has work has contributed to the underlying condition. People like Ken who are injured on the job have a right to collect workers' compensation. A lawyer can help you pursue your rights."

Iowa lawyers secure work comp benefits despite companies' efforts to avoid paying

Julie was lifting a 50-pound box over her head at work when she heard a pop in her neck. She shook her head and rolled her shoulders. It hurt like crazy, but she thought, It's just a strain. It'll be okay.

By the next morning, it was much worse. She visited the Des Moines-area company doctor for a diagnosis. He told her it was nothing, and suggested she take Tylenol and go back to work. But the pain didn't go away, and physical therapy only made it worse. By the time she called Des Moines workers compensation lawyer John Dougherty, she was beside herself with pain and frustration.

"I wrote to the doctor and listed Julie's symptoms," John says. "I asked if he was going to order an MRI. After he got the letter, he ordered one. It turned out that Julie had a herniated disc and needed to have surgery."

Julie's story is, unfortunately, fairly common in labor-intensive jobs. An employee gets injured and visits the company doctor for a diagnosis. The doctor can't - or won't - recognize the magnitude of the problem, fails to order diagnostic tests, and sends the employee back to the job in which she was hurt in the first place.

"Clients often call in tears as they leave the doctor's office," John says. "It happens all the time. I write a letter to the doctor detailing their symptoms and request appropriate testing and treatment. The doctor usually complies then."

Once the client has recovered as much as she will be able to, John says he finishes up the case.

"If my client is completely better, then temporary benefits will cover her needs and she will return to work," he says. "If she has a permanent injury, then we strive to gain permanent-partial disability benefits. She might return to the same job, with medical restrictions. But when the company won't accommodate those restrictions, then she will need to find other employment. When you make your living lifting boxes, and can't do it anymore, your income will be severely affected. That's why we need to make sure injured employees are adequately compensated."

John says if you are injured on the job, you should consult with a lawyer to make sure the company is providing you with the support you are legally entitled to.

"There are a lot of little loopholes and tricks that can be used to reduce benefits," he says. "Watch for warning signs, like the doctor not ordering tests, or the company taking a recorded statement from you, or behaving rudely, or not sending you your benefits on time."

Iowa woman gets help for carpal tunnel in work injury

When Bonnie's hands first began hurting her, she says she knew why right away. She had recently changed jobs at an area manufacturing plant, and now was taping overfilled boxes shut eight hours a day. That repetitive motion, combined with having to move the 70 lb. boxes after taping, was creating the beginnings of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

"My hands just started to ache," Bonnie says. "They felt like they were swollen, even though they didn't look like it. I complained to my supervisor, but nothing happened."

Bonnie's discomfort grew gradually, until she was waking up at night with the pain. Des Moines area physical therapist Mark Blankespoor says that by the time you are waking up with pain, your injury has become serious.

"The worst case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome that I have seen was with an employee who was a good team player at her workplace," he says. "She was a hard worker who gave a great effort day in and day out. Unfortunately, she did not respond to her symptoms early enough to gain significant benefit from medical treatment. At the time she first visited the physician, she was experiencing such significant numbness and pain in both of her hands that she could not even grasp a pencil or use utensils to eat."

Bonnie's pain grew so that it was nearly impossible to think of anything but her hands. "I complained at work for four or five years," she says. "All I wanted them to do was put less into the boxes, so we didn't have to push on them to tape them shut. But the company wouldn't listen. I could hardly use my hands anymore. I couldn't sleep. It was unbearable."

Bonnie finally had surgery to try to correct the problem. It didn't work.

"When I went back to work after surgery, I couldn't do my job," Bonnie said. "I tried physical therapy too, but still couldn't do my job. Nothing worked."

Mark says that's not uncommon. "Injuries that have progressed significantly sometimes won't respond either to surgery or physical therapy," he says. "It indicates the importance of early intervention when painful symptoms are noted."

He says we need to listen to our bodies. "We tend to pacify our symptoms and discomforts by taking Ibuprofen, using heat or cold, or trying to forget about them. The best prevention is to deal with the painful symptoms right away. Talk to your employer about it."

For Bonnie, talking about her injuries didn't help. Her company didn't listen. "It hurts now to take dishes out of the cupboard. It hurts to turn a doorknob. My hands are pretty well shot. My company tried to fire me after 19 years of service. I called workers compensation attorney Beth Flansburg who helped me get permanent physical disability from worker's comp. I'm so grateful for that! But I wish I could live without pain again."

For more information on how to recognize, prevent and treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, visit http://www.webmd.com/ and type carpal tunnel into the search bar at the top of the page.

When Iowa companies close: Does your claim end?

No, but submit work injury notice right away.

Recently, a client contacted Des Moines, Iowa, workers compensation attorney David Lawyer with a concern. The company where she worked was going to close for good. She had recently been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome due to her job, and wondered what would happen to her workers' comp claim.

David says that's a common situation these days in Iowa.

"Many companies have closed in the last year, due to economic pressures, new ownership or consolidation," he notes. "I advised this client to give notice of her injury immediately. It's very easy to do so in Iowa. An attorney can write and send the notice. It must provide details of your injury and include a statement which claims your injury is work related.

"This client also asked me if her worker's compensation claim would end with the closure of her company. I told her, No. It doesn't matter whether the employment relationship ends. She will still be entitled to workers' compensation benefits provided she gives notice to her employer within 90 days of the injury date and files her claim within the statute of limitations. I offered to assist her with giving notice and filing her claim."

As with any workers' comp claim, David stresses that one of the keys to receiving benefits is complying with Iowa law.

"It is essential that you give notice to your employer of your work injury within the 90-day period required under Iowa law. Cumulative injuries, like carpal tunnel, back injuries and hearing loss can occur up until the last day of employment. The date of injury in a cumulative injury case may be difficult to determine and should be discussed with your attorney immediately. However, if an injury occurs in the months leading up to the closure, notice must be given to the employer, within 90 days from the date of injury.

"We see too many cases where an employee does not realize they have an obligation to give notice within 90 days of an injury date. The danger is that the worker may lose the right to pursue benefits. Giving notice of an injury is a simple process. A lawyer can help you give notice and determine whether there is a case for benefits worth pursuing. I have seen cases worth tens of thousands of dollars fall by the wayside because a clients didn't know they had an obligation to give notice because their employment had ended. Remember, just because your company is closing doesn't mean you will lose your right to make a claim. Even if your injury occurs on the last day of work, you need to notify your company within 90 days. Let a lawyer help guide you."