Norie C. Smith v. TPI Iowa, LLC and Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania

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IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF IOWA No. 20-1269 Filed July 21, 2021 NORIE C. SMITH, Petitioner-Appellant, vs. TPI IOWA, LLC and INSURANCE COMPANY OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, Respondents-Appellees. ________________________________________________________________ Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Robert B. Hanson, Judge. Norrie C. Smith appeals from a ruling on judicial review affirming the workers’ compensation commissioner’s finding that she failed to meet her burden of proving her injury arose out of her employment. AFFIRMED. Erik A. Luthens of Parrish-Sams Luthens Law, P.C., West Des Moines, for appellant. Timothy W. Wegman and Joseph M. Barron of Peddicord, Wharton, Spencer, Hook, Barron & Wegman, LLP, West Des Moines, for appellees. Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Ahlers, JJ. 2 AHLERS, Judge. Norrie C. Smith began working for TPI Iowa, LLC in 2008. Her job was to help assemble wind turbine blades by adding fiberglass to blade molds. In December 2015, Smith submitted an injury report claiming left shoulder pain caused by a fall that occurred at work in 2014. Smith complained of ongoing and worsening pain in her left shoulder. That same month, Smith saw Dr. Orville Bunker for her shoulder pain and he recommended physical therapy. Smith declined, wanting workers’ compensation to cover the costs. In April 2016, Smith saw Dr. Daniel Miller. Dr. Miller ordered an MRI. The MRI revealed a rotator cuff tear, and Smith was referred to Dr. Steven Aviles for consultation. Dr. Aviles declined to connect the injury to Smith’s employment, stating in a letter: Ms. Smith had indicated she fell 3 years ago, had pain for about two weeks, and then it resolved. She states that a year ago she developed pain in her shoulder associated with repetitive labor. She describes no trauma that occurred at work associated with this rotator cuff tear. I do not believe that this is related to any work- related injury as there is no trauma associated with the pain. Based in part on Dr. Aviles’s letter, TPI denied Smith’s workers’ compensation claim, so Smith did not undergo surgery at that time. Smith later consulted Dr. Patrick Sullivan on her own because of her ongoing pain. Dr. Sullivan completed surgery to repair the rotator cuff in October 2016. In response to a request for an opinion from TPI’s counsel, Dr. Sullivan declined to connect Smith’s injuries with her employment. Smith then saw another doctor of her choice, Dr. Jacqueline Stoken, for an independent medical evaluation. In her report, Dr. Stoken stated Smith had 3 impairment that is causally connected to the “subject injury,” but she did not express an opinion that the “subject injury” was caused by Smith’s employment. After a contested hearing, a deputy commissioner’s proposed arbitration ruling, and an intra-agency appeal, the workers’ compensation commissioner found Smith failed to carry her burden of proving her injury was causally connected to her employment at TPI. Smith sought judicial review, and the district court upheld the commissioner’s decision. Smith appeals the district court’s ruling, contending the commissioner’s …

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