UPDATES & ANALYSIS

12.16

Iowa Supreme Court Affirms Workers’ Compensation Commissioner’s Award of Benefits in a Battle of the Experts

by Fran Haas | December 16, 2011

By Fran Haas

In Cedar Rapids Community School District v. Pease, a workers’ compensation case, the Iowa Supreme Court focused on two issues: (1) whether the medical causation of Plaintiff’s ankle and lower back injury was work-related; and (2) whether Plaintiff’s physical injury aggravated her depression. As is often the case, the parties’ experts had conflicting opinions over these issues. The Commissioner credited Plaintiff’s expert witnesses over the employer’s expert witnesses and awarded benefits to the employee. The Iowa Court of Appeals reversed on the grounds that the Commissioner’s decision to credit Plaintiff’s experts over the employer’s experts was not supported by substantial evidence. The Iowa Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and affirmed the Commissioner’s decision.

Among the employer’s chief complaints was that the Commissioner had relied on Plaintiff’s expert witnesses despite a surveillance video of Plaintiff that appeared to directly contradict Plaintiff’s testimony and undermine her credibility and medical history, which Plaintiff’s experts had relied on to reach their opinions. The video, which appeared to depict Plaintiff performing tasks inconsistent with her claimed disabilities, was approximately forty minutes in length and spanned a two-year period.

The Court held the video did not undermine Plaintiff’s experts’ opinions and questioned the overall helpfulness of this type of surveillance video, because although it appeared to impeach Plaintiff’s credibility somewhat, it was fragmented and was missing large gaps of relevant time. Further, the Court held substantial evidence showed the experts formed their opinions independent of matters related to the surveillance video, such as their own independent evaluations and her medical records. The Court also found persuasive the fact that at least one of the expert’s opinions was consistent with the opinions of two other medical professionals. The Court held that this evidence showed that Plaintiff’s expert witness opinions were supported by substantial evidence despite the surveillance video and affirmed the Commissioner’s decision to credit their opinions over the opinions of the employer’s experts.

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