Welder's limited knowledge of English boosts claim for PTD benefits
Case name: Merivic, Inc. v. Gutierrez, No. 2-722/12-0240 (Iowa Ct. App. 11/15/12).
Ruling: The Iowa Court of Appeals held that a welder was entitled to permanent total disability benefits.
What it means: In Iowa, a workers' compensation commissioner can consider a worker's limited knowledge of English as a factor that contributes to his inability to find employment.
Summary: A welder had a ninth-grade education and limited working knowledge of English. While working, he fell from a height of 10 to 12 feet and landed on a steel table, injuring his left wrist and the rotator cuff in his left shoulder. He underwent surgery and returned to light-duty work performing one-armed welding. After his second surgery, he returned to work before being told that the work did not comport with his medical restrictions. He did not work for the employer again and was unable to find employment elsewhere. He sought workers' compensation benefits. The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the workers' compensation commissioner's finding that the welder had a 100 percent loss of earning capacity and held that he was entitled to PTD benefits.
The employer asserted that the welder's failure to learn English should be a factor weighing against a finding of total disability. The court disagreed, explaining that the commissioner previously could accept a worker's failure to learn English as a basis for reducing an award but stated "that ship has sailed."
The court explained that the workers' compensation commissioner could consider the welder's lack of fluency in English as a factor that contributed to his inability to find employment.
A vocational rehabilitation expert noted the welder's "approaching advanced age," limited education, and limited work history involving physically demanding jobs. The expert also described his difficulty lifting, grasping, and reaching. She characterized his limitations as "severe" and opined that they prevented him from returning to his previous job and restricted his ability to perform other jobs. The expert opined that English classes "would take years and would not be a short term solution to assist him in finding employment."
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February 18, 2013
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