Iowa workers’ compensation law has two big categories of permanent disability: permanent partial disability and permanent total disability. The major difference between the two is that if you’ve got a permanent total disability, your injury has left you incapable of returning to gainful employment; if it’s a permanent partial disability, you can reasonably expect to be gainfully employed even though the effects of your injury are going to stick around.
Permanent partial disabilities are further broken down into two categories: scheduled and unscheduled. If you’ve got a scheduled injury, it means you’ve lost one or more members or appendages—eyes, toes, hands, etc. The legislature has given a value to each bodily member and the amount you can receive in permanent partial disabilities is based upon that value. If you’ve suffered an injury to the body as a whole—say, a brain injury, or a hip or back problem—you’ve got an unscheduled injury. The amount you can receive will be based on a doctor’s determination of what percentage of your body is impaired.
The trouble is that it’s still possible for the Worker’s Compensation Commissioner to determine that a person has a partial disability that’s, say, a 70% impairment, when in all practicality he’ll never be able to get another job. Iowa has adopted a rule of law called the “odd-lot doctrine” to prevent this sort of injustice from happening. A worker becomes an odd-lot employee “when an injury makes the worker incapable of obtaining employment in any well-known branch of the labor market.” [See 2010 decision below].
The Commission can consider a number of factors in determining whether someone is an odd-lot employee—these include his age, his intelligence, his training, his potential for retraining, his efforts to find a job and their levels of success, and expert testimony that can demonstrate whether or not the worker is employable. The defendant—the employer or insurance company—can present what evidence it has that jobs are available.
Every case is different, but here are a couple of cases to show you how this doctrine works. In one recent case, a woman claimed to be an odd-lot employee. But she was able to perform research work for 36 hours a week, she was able to attend school and maintain a good GPA, and despite that she hadn’t yet found a job, her instructors and former supervisors were of the opinion that she would be able to find work. The Commission found that in light of these factors, she was not an odd-lot employee. [See 2014 decision below].
Contrast this 2010 case: The worker was 63 years old, with an 11th-grade education. His work restrictions made it impossible for him to return to any of his former jobs. He attempted to return to work at the job for which he was best suited, but his employer denied him the opportunity because of his age, education, and work experience. He hadn’t looked for any new jobs, but that doesn’t matter under the odd-lot doctrine. The Commissioner found him an odd-lot employee. [See 2010 case below].
A couple of things to bear in mind about this doctrine: it’s an exception to how the law usually works. The Commission isn’t going to bring it up on its own—it’s up to the worker’s lawyer to raise it. One more reason to make sure you’ve got a good lawyer for your workers’ compensation case! I like to say to my clients, "Help me to help you." If we can help you, call the Lombardi Law Firm to speak with attorneys Steve Lombardi and Katrina Schaefer. We can be reached at 515-222-1110 or by emailing us at [email protected] and [email protected] We look forward to your call.