Iowa Court Affirms Rejection of “Uncontradicted” Expert Testimony

An commissioner’s award of permanent total disability benefits to an HVAC employee who claimed he suffered an electric shock while servicing a unit at a customer’s residence was supported by substantial evidence in spite of the fact that the employer presented what it contended was uncontroverted expert evidence that no such shock could have occurred, held an Iowa court recently [H.J. Heating & Cooling v. Dahlen, 2015 Iowa App. LEXIS 499 (June 10, 2015)]. The court agreed that the expert testimony had not been controverted by expert testimony provided by any of the employee’s witnesses, but the court indicated the commissioner had provided detailed reasons for rejecting the employer’s expert and, under the circumstances, the commissioner was free to accept or reject an expert’s opinion in whole or in part.

The employee contended that while walking through tall wet grass, he reached down to touch the air conditioning unit at a residence and was shocked upon touching metal. He claimed the shock to fall and break a window well covering and aggravate a pre-existing back condition. Testimony by the homeowner was consistent with that of the employee. Medical evidence presented supported the employee’s claim. The employer offered expert testimony from a master electrician who opined no shock could have occurred because the air conditioning unit was grounded. The commissioner discounted the expert testimony, awarded benefits, and the district court affirmed.

In particular, the commissioner indicated the expert’s opinion testimony was “highly suspect,” since: (1) his inspection was conducted three years after the fact; (2) a new furnace had been installed since the date of injury; (3) an addition had been put on the house with additional lighting necessitating changes to the breaker box; and (4) the expert did not talk to any of the workers who worked on the electrical system to see what alterations they made.

While the expert’s testimony had not been contradicted by another witness, it had been impeached and was appropriately disregarded.

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