Question: Should I file a law suit for the accident that happened at work which caused permanent injuries?

Question Detail: I quit the rigs after ten years with one company after the driller put his hands around my neck for the second time in two years. I joined a pole barn outfit the next day and had been sent to a different location. We fell behind as the ground was frozen and weather was extreme. In a rush to finish on time, the foreman had me put two sets of extension ladders about 18 feet high side by side so he could walk the tops of them and wouldn't have to get down every time he nailed another 2x4 to the trusses. I did this in total of 97 times at the last set of trusses, he got down I set the ladders up as I did the other times and he just walks off. In a few minutes, he walked back in to the shop we were building and yelled at me and another guy that was walking the tops of the ladders with him to "get up there and finish them" I said "yes sir" and me and the other kid got to work nailing off these last twelve 2x4s. On my sixth one I was getting down from the ladder as I hooked the air nailer to a 2x4 that was previously nailed off by the kid that was helping me the 2x4 was not nailed right and didn't support the weight of the gun. As I let go, it fell with the piece of wood and took the air hose out of my other hand that was holding the truss. I could not react fast as I was exhausted from moving the ladders handing wood up all morning. I fell 15-16 feet and broke my calcaneus (heel bone) in half. I have since February till now have had two surgeries and going back in December to have my ankle fused. I was told by the surgeon to go back to school. I might not ever do construction again! This is all I know beyond the rigs. I need help but scared to file since I won't be hired by anyone since I have 16 screws in my foot and walk with a limp now.

Answer: You ask a good question based on very legitimate concerns. Your earning capacity is going to take a hit and will more than likely result in reduced future earnings. And as you age that ankle won’t be improving because as we know, over time human capital wears out. Should you be concerned? Yes, you should and obviously you are concerned, but what is the answer?

In Iowa our focus in any workers’ compensation case is first to place the injured body part into one of the two categories. There are just two. The first is a scheduled member and the second a non-scheduled injury. So what is the essential difference between the two?

The essential difference is in the way we determine how many weeks of benefits you will ultimately receive. And as you are about to find out, this makes a big one.

If your injury is a scheduled member injury you will not have the loss of earning capacity considered. The only consideration is functional loss. Here let me demonstrate.

The Concert Pianist

Let’s say you were a concert pianist earning $1,000,000 per year touring the most important concert halls in the world, playing on television and selling CD’s. You enjoy a wonderful lifestyle while earning this phenomenal annual income. You are on tour and while backstage sound equipment topples over slamming 200 pounds of speakers onto your hand that is set on the edge of a piano. The edge of the speaker cuts off one of your fingers and surgeons are unable to reattach the now amputated finger.

Your career as a concert pianist is done, finis’, over with and you are now a has-been because as we know you need ten digits to play the piano. So what do you do? You teach lessons to high school students for $10 per hour. Obviously you have a loss of earning capacity, but under Iowa law you have a scheduled member injury and therefore are entitle only to scheduled member benefits.

So how much is your case worth?

It is worth hardly anything because under the scheduled member statute the loss of the fingers are worth very little. The thumb is worth only 60 weeks, the first finger 35, the second 30, the third 25 and the fourth only 20. The law does not allow for consideration of your enormous loss of earning capacity.

Why doesn’t the law allow consideration of the loss of earning capacity?

Because the legislature didn’t care to compensate all injured people as if they actually mattered. The legislature decided that some injuries would be compensated for a pittance and other injuries (non-scheduled injuries) would be allowed benefits for a loss of earning capacity.

When it comes to getting hired does the loss of a single finger really matter?

In a digital computer age it really does matter because who wants to hire a nine digit keyboard operator?

So what about my ankle?

Well your ankle is like the finger case. You have a scheduled member case because the ankle is a part of the leg and the leg is listed on the schedule. If you had your entire leg amputated, 220 weeks is the maximum number of benefit weeks allowed. The foot is worth even less. It is worth only 150 weeks. And if you think that is bad consider the great toe is worth only 40 and any other toe only 15 weeks.

What is functional impairment?

Functional impairment is a number or a percentage of functional loss a doctor assigns based on a book that the insurance industry wrote and as you can pretty much figure out, it ain’t in your favor. The AMA stacked the deck against you and included no claimant attorneys on the committee that wrote the book. So guess what? Yup you guessed it, they screwed you and every other wage earner who doesn’t have a private disability policy.

If the doctor assigns you a 10% rating you will be awarded 22 weeks of benefits.

And what about the piano player’s case?

The concert pianist is just as screwed as you will be. She will be paid between 20 and 35 weeks of benefits – and that is it. Nothing more and her loss of $1 million per year will go uncompensated under the Iowa workers’ compensation program.

Is there anything else she can do?

Maybe, if I had this case and was hired soon enough after the accident my office would start a lawsuit to see if we could determine who precariously stacked those speakers in such a busy location making a dangerous situation. And this is why it is so very important that people contact a lawyer right after they are injured.

I wish you the best of luck with your case and if we can help follow the contact information on this page to speak to Katrina or I. 

Steve Lombardi
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Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death
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