Longtime smoker can't prove claim to permanent disability benefits
Case name: Larry K. Fox & Associates v. O'Brien, No. 0-960/10-1026 (Iowa Ct. App. 03/21/11).
Ruling: The Iowa Court of Appeals held that a marketing director was not entitled to permanent disability benefits because she did not establish a causal connection between her injury and permanent impairment.
What it means: In Iowa, a lack of expert testimony establishing a causal connection between an injury and claimed permanent impairment will prevent an award of permanent disability benefits.
Summary: A marketing director, who was a longtime smoker, noticed discolorations in the tiles in most of her office after she began working for her employer. She had respiratory problems and was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and allergies. A coworker noticed leaks and a broken ceiling tile in her office. The director tested the filter of the air purifier she used in her office, which contained a common allergen. A complete indoor air quality assessment was performed at the office building and revealed elevated mold concentrations. The director filed for workers' compensation benefits alleging that she was injured as a result of exposure to mold and allergens. A second indoor air quality assessment was performed at the office, which noted high levels of black mold. The Iowa Court of Appeals held that the director was not entitled to permanent disability benefits because she did not establish a causal connection between her injury and permanent impairment.
The court said there was no dispute that the director suffered a work-related injury. A doctor opined that part of the director's lung disease was due to tobacco use but did not expressly attribute the exposure to mold as contributing to the lung disease. The doctor referred only to "flares" as a result of exposure to the mold. The flares were temporary events. The court said that at best the doctor's opinion supported a conclusion that the mold exposure aggravated a preexisting condition. Another expert did not think there was a permanent change in the director's condition related to the mold exposure.
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May 5, 2011
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