The Iowa Legislature amended the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act to include a “shoulder” as a scheduled member under Iowa Code § 85.34(2). This amendment went into effect on July 1, 2017, and has resulted in extensive litigation attempting to solidify the definition of a “shoulder.”

As of recently, on April 1, 2022, the Supreme Court of Iowa entered an opinion in Chavez v. MS Technology LLC, holding a “’shoulder’ is not limited to the glenohumeral joint.” The Chavez Court further affirmed the rulings of the Commissioner and District Court. 

In Chavez, Claimant suffered “a large full thickness tear of the rotator cuff with retraction to around the level of the glenoid” and “[b]iceps tendonitis and tearing.” These diagnoses resulted in Claimant undergoing a shoulder arthroscopy with rotator cuff repair, biceps tenotomy, subacromial decompression, and distal claviculectomy. Claimant went on to argue a “shoulder” was limited to injuries occurring within the glenohumeral joint and since the rotator cuff attaches to the proximal (closest to the body) side of the glenohumeral joint, and because she sustained an injury to her rotator cuff she suffered an injury to her Body as a Whole. 

A Deputy Commissioner agreed with Claimant on the definition of the “shoulder,” due to the Legislature’s ambiguous definition in the Act. Defendants appealed to the Commissioner, who reversed the award entered by the Deputy. The Commissioner supported his decision by stating the muscles, ligaments, and tendons make up a support system allowing the glenohumeral joint to function. The District Court affirmed the ruling of the Commissioner on judicial review and the cause was appealed to the Supreme Court. 

In Chavez, the Supreme Court identified the definition of “shoulder” in the Act was ambiguous, which required it to enter the process of statutory construction. Ultimately, the Chavez Court affirmed the rulings of the District Court and Commissioner. The Supreme Court held a “shoulder” under section 85.34(2)(n) must be defined in the functional sense to include the glenohumeral joint as well as all of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are essential for the shoulder to function.

This ruling is extremely impactful to workers’ compensation claims in Iowa, as litigation continued while a decision on the issue from the Supreme Court was pending. Now, the Deputies and Commissioner have a set definition to work from moving forward on all shoulder claims. 

If you have any questions about this case and/or how it may affect matters you are reviewing, please do not hesitate to reach out to our talented attorneys. Sodoro Law Group is a full-service law firm answering to the legal needs of clients in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota. 

For more information, or to contact the team at Sodoro Law Group, go to or email Kelsey Sievers at