Case name: Neal v. Annett Holdings, Inc., No. 10-2117 (Iowa 03/02/12).
Ruling: The Iowa Supreme Court held that an employer failed to offer a driver "suitable work" as light-duty work, and he was entitled to benefits for a 60 percent disability.
What it means: In Iowa, the distance of available work from an injured worker's home may be considered in determining whether an employer offered "suitable work."
Summary: A flatbed truck driver was sent to pick up a load of plywood. He climbed onto the flatbed to secure the tarps over the load and injured his shoulder. His doctor imposed work restrictions, so the employer offered him light-duty work in a city 387 miles from his home. The employer offered to provide a motel room and transportation costs to allow him to return home every other weekend. Before the injury, he was home every weekend and occasionally during the week. The driver declined the offer of light-duty work. The employer suspended his benefits. The Iowa Supreme Court held that the employer failed to offer him "suitable work," and he was entitled to benefits for a 60 percent disability.
The court explained that a worker cannot receive temporary partial, temporary total, and healing period benefits if the employer offers "suitable work" that the worker refused. The court found the statute did not provide a definition for "suitable work." In examining the statutes of other states, the court found that geographic proximity is commonly considered as a relevant factor. The court noted that other areas of employment law also consider geographic distance in determining "suitable work." In this case, the light-duty offer was 387 miles from the driver's home and would have cut his time at home in half. The court pointed out that it was not insignificant for a worker to be away from his wife and family while recovering from a serious work injury.
The court found substantial evidence supporting a finding of a 60 percent industrial disability. The driver was 47 and had a limited education. His permanent injuries made him less competitive in the employment market.
A dissenting judge opined that "suitable work" could require a worker to travel temporarily if the work was offered in good faith to meet the employer's needs and travel was at the employer's expense.
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April 9, 2012
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