West Des Moines Community Schools V. John Frye

An Iowa court ruled that an injured worker was able to receive two different prosthetic hands for his hand injury. His employer appealed arguing that he had already received one prosthetic and could not claim another through Workers’ Compensation.

Allen Conell worked for Nestle repairing machines. He was clearing a jam in a bag-sealing machine and the machine closed on his hand. Conell severley injured his hand and had surgeries on his hand and shoulder. He was approved for a mechanical prosthetic so he could move his thumb and index finger. However, he could only use it a few hours a day because it was very heavy and difficult to manipulate, especially for a long period of time. Conell also admitted to having emotional distress in public feeling like a “Frankenstein figure.” According to a psychologist, Conell avoided the general public when he used the mechanical device. He requested a passive, natural-looking prosethic for these reasons.

The court determined that there was a connection between Conell’s PTSD and depression and his work injury.  The employer was ordered to pay permanent total disability benefits and to pay for a passive prosthetic hand. Nestle appealed his request, saying it should be denied based on Iowa Code Section 85.27 which limits workers to one set of “reasonable and necessary” prosthetics.

The Court of Appeals of Iowa ruled in favor of Conell determining that he was eligible for a passive prosthetic. This section of the law states “the employer shall furnish reasonable and necessary crutches, artificial members and appliances but shall not be required to furnish more than one set of permanent prosthetic devices.”  The court determined that “a set” could include a passive prosthetic with both devices to be used interchangeably according to his needs. It was deemed a necessary part of his care and would allow for this employee’s long-term health and functionality.