In the case of Kraft Foods, Inc. v. Shariff, No. 15-0287 (Iowa App. Feb. 24, 2016), the claimant, Yusuf Shariff, received injuries in a 2011 car crash while performing his duties at Kraft. In her decision issued in July, 2013, the deputy noted that Shariff did not prove that his shoulder injuries were, in fact, due to the automobile accident. An intra-agency appeal was filed and the commissioner overturned that ruling, and found that Shariff should receive temporary disability benefits and alternative care. He further noted that Dr. Rick Garrels should no longer play a role in Mr. Shariff’s care.
Shariff received injuries in the 2011 car accident and was transported via ambulance to the hospital. He received care on-site and also sought care from physician Rick Garrels at the Kraft facility the day after the accident. Garrels initially diagnosed Shariff with injuries consistent with an automobile accident, namely a head injury, right neck and shoulder pain, lower back pain, and left knee pain. Shariff received treatment from Garrels, who ordered imaging tests when Shariff’s symptoms failed to improve. Imaging scans showed a number of spinal and shoulder abnormalities with no indication noted as to their origin. After Shariff continued to present with ongoing pain approximately 6 weeks after the accident, Garrels began to note his frustration with his patient, commenting privately to a nurse that Shariff was “quite dramatic” and that he (Garrels) had lost all respect for him.
Garrels referred Shariff to Dr. Suleman Hussain, an orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Hussain examined Shariff and recommended a course of physical therapy and surgery if the therapy was not successful. Shariff received physical therapy 2-3 times a week and returned to Dr. Hussain approximately 6 weeks later. At this time, Hussain prescribed surgery. Shariff and the claims administrator both agreed to the surgery.
In May, Shariff returned to Garrels with back and neck pain. Garrels contacted Hussain to discuss Shariff’s condition. Hussain noted that the injuries may have been chronic but exacerbated by the accident, and wrote a letter to that affect. Garrels requested Hussain rewrite the letter, leaving out the reference to any “exacerbation.”
From this point, attorneys for the claimant and Kraft each hired numerous medical professionals to assess Shariff’s condition. Although the professionals could not agree on the specific course of treatment, all noted that it appeared the injuries were either directly caused by the accident or were exacerbated by the accident.
The commissioner reasoned that the deputy should not have assigned greater weight to the opinion of Dr. Garrels over that of the other medical experts. The commissioner also ruled that there is no evidence to suggest that Shariff suffered any pain prior to the accident, and that he has exhibited signs of chronic pain since the accident. In addition, four medical professionals have examined Shariff and viewed his records and all four believe that his injuries are due to the accident. The commissioner further found that Garrels cannot be considered objective in the case.
The court of appeals affirmed the decisions of the commissioner and found that Shariff is eligible for alternative medical care and temporary disability benefits.
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