Friday, May 25, 2018

Published:09/30/2014

Claimant Marliea Navis worked for a hog farm as a power washer. She would use the same hose every day to spray and clean the walls, ceilings, pens, rooms, and concrete hallways of four barns on the property of employer, Premium Standard Farms, Inc. After working as a power washer for a few months, Navis complained of feeling fatigued and sick. She was diagnosed with Legionnaire’s Disease, was admitted to a hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, and was in a coma for two weeks and unconscious for a total of six weeks. She now has shortness of breath and no stamina. After examinations by doctors for Navis and for employer, it was determined that Navis had a preexisting condition of COPD.

Both Premium Standard and the Second Injury Fund appealed the respective decisions of the Commission, which had affirmed the decision of the ALJ to award worker’s compensation benefits to Navis. Premium Standard was ordered to pay a lump sum of $63,357.43 and the SIF was ordered to pay $290.25 per week for the remainder of Navis’ life.

Premium Standard argued that there was insufficient evidence showing that Navis’ job had been a substantial factor in her Legionnaire’s disease. To receive worker’s compensation benefits for an occupational disease, the disease must have been caused by the employment. If there is conflicting medical evidence, the decision of the commission on which medical opinion to follow will be followed. In this case, there were three doctors who each gave different testimony. The commission followed the opinion of Navis’ expert, who stated that Navis had contracted Legionnaire’s as a result of her power-washing duties. The Western District found this to be a sufficient basis for the finding.

The SIF argued that the Commission’s decision was against the weight of the evidence. For the SIF to have liability, the law requires that a claimant have a preexisting permanent partial disability that was of such seriousness to constitute a hindrance or obstacle to employment. The Court stated that a preexisting disability is a hindrance when the injury may combine with a future work related injury and result in a greater degree of disability than would otherwise exist. In this instance, Navis suffered from COPD. She had experienced no symptoms prior to contracting Legionnaire’s disease. The lack of prior symptoms or issues, however, did not prevent a finding that the COPD sufficed for a preexisting disability that was a hindrance. Navis’ medical expert that her present disability was due in half to the COPD and in half to the residual effects of her Legionnaire’s disease. Therefore, the COPD was a preexisting condition that had the potential to combine with a work-related injury and increase the disability. The Western District upheld the Commission’s decision.