Truck Driving Injuries

Causes of Trucking Injuries

Under Iowa law most injuries that occur to a truck driver while he is on a trip will be considered to be a work injury, and therefore the injured truck driver will be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

Additionally, the fact that a truck driver may have a pre-existing condition does not prevent a worker from being able to receive work comp benefits. If the work incident causes a substantial and permanent aggravation of a pre-existing condition, then the truck driver is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

Truck driving is very strenuous and dangerous work. Injuries can occur or develop from a wide variety of causes.

Injuries from collisions with another vehicle or single vehicle accidents can lead to very serious injuries. Truck drivers frequently sustain back and neck injuries in collisions.

However, the majority of injuries in the trucking industry do not involve collisions. The loading and unloading of freight results in drivers sustaining a lot of back injuries and shoulder injuries.

Truck drivers are also frequently injured in slip and fall type accidents. Truck drivers work in all weather conditions and at all hours of the day and night. The footing can be icy or wet. The lighting is frequently poor. Some or all of these factors can lead to slips and falls which can cause serious injury.

Driving for long hours can also lead to many problems including blood clots and back problems. The vibrations from holding onto a steering wheel can also cause carpal tunnel and elbow problems.

Jurisdiction/Where to Bring a Claim

Generally, any time a truck driver is injured while he is physically in the State of Iowa he is entitled to benefits under the Iowa Workers’ Compensation system. Additionally, some truck driving injuries that occur outside the State of Iowa can be pursued in the Iowa work comp system. Iowa law provides that a truck driver who is injured outside the State of Iowa can bring an Iowa work comp claim if any of the five following options are true:

  1. The employer has a place of business in Iowa and the driver regularly works at or from that place of business, or the employer has a place of business in Iowa and the driver is domiciled in Iowa.
  2. The driver is working under a contract of hire made in Iowa and the driver regularly works in Iowa.
  3. The driver is working under a contract of hire made in Iowa and sustains an injury for which no remedy is available under the workers’ compensation laws of another state.
  4. The driver is working under a contract of hire made in Iowa for employment outside the United States.
  5. The employer has a place of business in Iowa, and the driver is working under a contract of hire which provides that the driver’s workers’ compensation claims be governed by Iowa law.

This law ends up applying in a lot of situations to allow a worker injured outside the State of Iowa to bring an Iowa work comp claim. A common example involves a truck driver from Wisconsin or some other bordering state that works for an Iowa trucking company, and the driver regularly works in Iowa or from the company’s Iowa location. That driver is entitled to bring a claim in the Iowa work comp system if he is injured anywhere in the United States.

Compensation Benefits Under Iowa Law

In the Iowa workers’ compensation system an injured truck driver is entitled to lifetime medical benefits for his work injury. If a truck driver suffers an injury to a scheduled body part such as an arm, hand, leg, or foot, then he is entitled to benefits under the scheduled benefits portion of the law. An explanation of compensation for scheduled injuries is set out in the “Overview of Iowa Workers’ Compensation Law” section of our website.

If a truck driver suffers an injury to an unscheduled body part such as the head, neck, shoulders, back, or hip, then he is entitled to compensation based on how the injury will negatively affect his potential future earning capacity. In assessing how the truck driver’s future earning capacity will potentially be affected by the unscheduled injury, a number of factors need to be analyzed, including:

  • Functional Impairment from the Injury. Functional impairment refers to the degree of physical disability that a doctor will determine under the appropriate edition of the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. The insurance carrier has a duty to obtain such an impairment rating. Our law firm also helps injured workers to be evaluated under an independent medical examination for a second impairment rating. As a general matter a higher impairment rating will lead to a higher work comp award.
  • Work Restrictions. A truck driver who is given more stringent and limiting work restrictions will generally receive a higher award than a truck driver who is only given minor restrictions or no restrictions.
  • Whether the Employer Continues to Provide the Truck Driver a Job. If the trucking company ends up firing the driver after their injury, that will generally result in a higher work comp award for the driver. In contrast, if the trucking company accommodates the driver’s problems from his injuries and continues to employ the driver, than the driver will generally receive a lower award.
  • Age of the Injured Driver. Generally an older driver will receive a higher award than a younger driver with the same injury. The basis for this rule is the recognition that most trucking companies would prefer a younger driver if possible. Therefore, an older driver with injuries is going to be at an even greater disadvantage in getting a new job.
  • Education. Generally, a truck driver with a lower level of education will receive a higher award than a driver with a higher level of education. The basis of this principle is that a driver with more education generally has a better opportunity to be able to transition to a new job outside of the trucking industry where physical limitations are not as big of a problem.
  • Qualifications to do Other Types of Work. A truck driver who does not have the qualifications or work experience to get a job outside of trucking will generally receive a higher award. A driver who has the qualifications and experience to do other type of work where his injuries will not hold him back will generally receive a lower award.
  • Loss of Actual Earnings. If an injured driver’s earnings go down because of the injury that will generally lead to a higher workers’ compensation award. However, under Iowa law if an injured driver’s earnings remain the same or even go up after the injury, the driver is still eligible for work comp benefits.
  • Motivation. If the Work Comp Judge concludes that the injured driver has made his best effort at rehabilitation and getting back to work that will lead to a higher award. Conversely, if the Work Comp Judge decides that the driver has not made his best effort to get back to work or is exaggerating his injuries, that will lead to a lower work comp award.
  • Inability to Engage in Employment for Which the Driver is Suited. The more that a driver’s injuries prevent him or make it difficult for him to work at any job to which he is actually suited, then the driver will be entitled to a higher award.

Under Iowa law no single factor controls how a driver’s unscheduled injury will be valued. Determining how much an unscheduled injury to a truck driver is worth is much more complex than putting numbers into a formula. All of the relevant factors have to be weighed and analyzed to determine how much an unscheduled injury reduces a truck driver’s potential future earning capacity.

Weekly Work Comp Rate Under Iowa Law

As a general matter an injured truck driver’s work comp rate under Iowa law is calculated by determining the average of the injured worker’s previous 13 weeks of employment. The resulting average weekly wage is then applied to the work comp rate book which results in the work comp rate which is roughly equal to the injured driver’s regular after tax income.

There are two special situations that come up in truck driver injury cases that can frequently increase the work comp amount the injured driver is entitled to receive. First, some trucking companies underpay taxable income and overpay per diem expenses as a way to minimize the payroll taxes that the employer should have to pay and to hold down the work comp rate. The Work Comp Judges have consistently found that where the per diem is inaccurately high, the excess per diem expenses should be factored into the driver’s earnings. Similarly, the decisions of the Workers’ Compensation Commission have found that where the injured driver actually uses very little of his per diem expenses while they are on the road, the excess per diem amount should be included in the calculations of the injured driver’s weekly work comp rate.

Second, the earnings of truck drivers can vary quite a bit for a wide variety of factors. The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that the weekly earnings of truck drivers have to be carefully examined, and non-representational weeks should be excluded from calculating the workers’ compensation rate. For example, if a worker’s 13 weeks prior to the injury showed 10 average weeks of earnings, but three weeks of very low earnings because a driver was ill, then the three low weeks should not be used in calculating the work comp rate.

Employee Versus Independent Contractor

A common argument in truck drivers’ work comp cases is whether the driver is an employee who is entitled to work comp benefits; or an independent owner-operator who is not entitled to work comp benefits. Under Iowa law a driver is entitled to work comp benefits unless all of the following conditions are substantially present:

  1. The driver is an owner-operator who owns a vehicle licensed and registered as a truck, road tractor, or truck tractor by a government agency.
  2. The owner-operator is responsible for the maintenance of the vehicle.
  3. The owner-operator bears the principal burden of the vehicle’s operating costs, including fuel, repairs, supplies, collision insurance, and personal expenses for the operator while on the road.
  4. The owner-operator is responsible for supplying the necessary personnel to operate the vehicle, and the personnel are considered the owner-operator’s employees.
  5. The owner-operator’s compensation is based on factors related to the work performed, including a percentage of any schedule of rates or lawfully published tariff, and not on the basis of the hours or time expended.
  6. The owner-operator determines the details and means of performing the services, in conformance with regulatory requirements, operating procedures of the carrier, and specifications of the shipper.
  7. The owner-operator enters into a contract which specifies the relationship to be that of an independent contractor and not that of an employee.

Call or email us now, and our lawyers would be happy to talk to you about your truck driving work comp case or any other Iowa workers’ compensation injury, and answer your questions without charge or obligation.