Court's decision to treat infection as traumatic injury makes claim timely
Case name: Burress v. IBP, Inc., No. 8-477/07-1887 (Iowa Ct. App. 10/29/08).
What it means:
Under Iowa law, an employee has one year to file an occupational disease claim and two years to file a traumatic injury claim. If credible evidence indicates that the claimant contracted an infection through an abrasion in the skin rather than from a generalized exposure to hog's blood, the workers' compensation commissioner may treat the claim as a traumatic injury rather than as an occupational disease.
Summary: A worker at a meatpacking plant acquired an infection after undergoing hip surgery. He was diagnosed with brucellosis, a disease acquired through direct contact with an infected animal -- in this case, slaughtered hogs. The employer argued that the worker suffered from an occupational disease and failed to file his claim within a year after the disease manifested itself. A lower court agreed and dismissed the claim as untimely. The Court of Appeals reversed, citing the deputy commissioner's finding that the claimant most likely sustained a cut to his hand, and experienced a sudden, traumatic exposure to hog's blood. Treated as a traumatic injury, the claim was timely.
The worker's physician explained in an opinion letter that the bacteria causing the infection are confined to "domestic or feral swine," with infection occurring when the animals are processed. He stated that the "portal of entry" is through abrasions in the skin but that "aerosol transmission" could also occur in slaughterhouses.
The Court of Appeals found that although the physician's letter could have supported a finding that the worker's infection was an occupational disease, it was up to the commissioner to "determine the credibility of witnesses, weigh the evidence, and decide the facts in issue." Based on credible evidence that the worker contracted the infection through an abrasion in the skin, the commissioner reasonably concluded that the worker had suffered a traumatic injury.
December 1, 2008
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