Iowa Workers' Compensation Update
Recent Decisions from Iowa Workers' Compensaiton Cases

IOWA WORKERS’ COMPENSATION UPDATE

 

Q:  Can the discovery rule tolling the statute of limitations apply to injury claims arising from singular events?

 

A:  Yes, the Iowa Supreme Court recently held that the discovery rule can apply to both singular event injuries as well as cumulative injuries.

 

Background: Claimant, an employee at Bridgestone/Firestone, strained his back at work in May of 2010.  He immediately reported the injury to his supervisor and treated conservatively with plant’s doctors and physical therapy.  Claimant’s pain gradually increased and in April of 2012 he missed work for the first time to undergo a radiofrequency denervation procedure.  Exactly two year to the date after the 2010 injury Bridgestone notified Claimant that it would no longer pay for his medical care because the two-year statute of limitation for workers compensation benefits has expired.  Iowa Code § 85.26.

 

The discovery rule had previously been used to determine when to begin the statute of limitation on cumulative injuries.  The rule would toll the two year limitation period until the Claimant knew “the nature, seriousness, and probable compensable character” of their injury.  

 

The Iowa Supreme Court here held that just because Claimant’s injury was acute and traumatic he did not necessarily know the seriousness of his claim. Whether a work-related injury arises because of a single event or develops cumulatively over time, the discovery rule applies.  The limitation period does not begin to run until the claimant knows or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should know the nature seriousness and probable compensable character of his or her injury.

 

            Baker v. Bridgestone, 872 N.W.2d 672, 674 (Iowa 2015)

 

 

Q: Can a city employer be held to be violating equal protection if they use different classification             for employers injured on the job versus off the job in assigning light duty?

 

A:  No, the classifications are rationally related to the legitimate purpose of minimizing workers’ compensation benefits.

 

Background: An engineer and paramedic from the City of Clinton Fire Department filed suit when after becoming pregnant she was denied light duty assignments for the duration of her pregnancy. The City of Clinton maintained an administrative policy governing light-duty assignments. The policy described the circumstances when light duty was available to employees, generally only authorizing light duty for employees who had been injured on the job and were eligible for workers' compensation benefits.

 

The Fire Chief denied Claimant’s request for a light-duty assignment. He determined she was not entitled to light duty under the city administrative policy because she did not have a disabling injury that occurred on the job.  Claimant brought a lawsuit against the City of Clinton and the individuals who participated in the decision to deny her light duty (collectively referred to as the City). She alleged pregnancy discrimination under Iowa Code section 216.6(2), a violation of her equal protection rights under article I, section 6 of the Iowa Constitution, and a violation of her due process rights under article I, section 9 of the Iowa Constitution.

 

While the pregnancy discrimination claim was remanded, the Court held that designating and reserving light duty for workers injured on the job was not a violation of equal protection.

 

            McQuistion v. City of Clinton, 872 N.W.2d 817, 820 (Iowa 2015)

 

 

Q:  Is there an exclusive method for reimbursement of an independent medical examination obtained by a claimant?

 

A:  Yes, reimbursement for an IME can only be done through Iowa Code 85.39. This means the commissioner cannot provide for the reimbursement of an IME as taxed costs at trail.

 

Background: Claimant was a bus driver for the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority who injured herself in a collision in June of 2009.  Following the injury she was sent to an orthopedic surgeon for recommended physical therapy and pain management.

 

On March 18, 2010, Claimant went to a doctor for a medical examination. The examination was not authorized by DART, but arranged independently by Claimant. The doctor examined Claimant, reviewed her medical records, and drafted a report. In the report, the doctor concluded claimant reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) on March 11, 2010, and suffered a permanent disability to her back. The doctor also assigned Claimant an impairment rating.

 

In December of 2010 claimant filed a workers’ compensation claim and proceeded to win at trial. The deputy commissioner also taxed as a cost against DART the expense of Claimant’s unauthorized examination and report under the administrative rule governing the assessment of costs in a hearing. The fee for the examination and report was $2800.

 

DART appealed, arguing that Iowa Code section 85.39 occupies the entire field for the reimbursement of what has become known as an independent medical examination (IME), and therefore, the commissioner cannot provide for the reimbursement of an IME outside the framework of section 85.39.

 

The Supreme Court agreed, and held that only the costs associated with the preparation of the written report of the unauthorized doctor can be assessed as costs of the hearing.

 

            Des Moines Area Reg'l Transit Auth. v. Young, 867 N.W.2d 839, 840 (Iowa 2015), reh'g denied             (Aug. 27, 2015)

 

 

Q: If an employee returns to work after a back strain at full duty with no restriction can the Employer be held liable for a subsequent back injury that occurs outside of the workplace?

 

A:  Yes, so long at the employee is engaged in an ordinary activity of daily living and not engaged in conduct contrary to any express or implied duty owed to his employer following his work injury.

 

Background:  Two months after a Claimant had returned to work after suffering an on the job back sprain he injured his back on the weekend helping a friend push a go-kart onto a trailer. The injury required back surgery and a claim was filed. The deputy denied the claim believing the go-kart incident was an intervening and superseding cause of the claimant’s injury.  The commissioner however reversed the deputy’s conclusion holding that “the greater weight of evidence supports the finding that claimant’s work injury was a proximate and natural cause of the disability he suffered.”  Though the Claimant had returned to work at fully duty with no restrictions, the commission believed his testimony that when he returned to work he was still suffering form back and leg pain but that he needed the full duty money.  On appeal the Court of Appeal noted that with the evidence presented it could go either way, however the action of moving to go-kart was not an intentional violation of an express or implied prohibition by the treating physician. 

 

            Carl A. Nelson & Co. v. Sloan, No. 15-0323, 2015 WL 7574232, (Iowa Ct. App. Nov. 25, 2015)

 

 

Q:        Can the Court of Appeal uphold a Commission decision granting healing benefits when there is evidence to suggest that Claimant is capable of returning to similar employment?

 

A:        Yes, unfortunately the Court of Appeals will not overturn a commission decision if it is supported by substantial evidence in the record.

 

Background:  A claimant who worked in a transmission shop filed for workers compensation benefits citing repetitive trauma to the hands.  He was later diagnosed with mild carpal tunnel to both wrists.  Following an arbitration award a deputy commissioned found he was entitled to a running award and healing period benefits.  Healing period benefits run until the employee returns to work, is able to return to similar employment, or recuperated from the injury.  Though the wrist symptoms prevented employee from returning to his original job, Employer appealed arguing that with braces Employee was capable of working a similar employment.  Though the Court of Appeal noted that Employer cited evidence that may support a finding the Employee was capable of returning to substantially similar employment, they ultimately held that it was not their task to determine whether substantial evidence supports different findings but rather whether the evidence supports the findings actually made.  As such they affirmed the prior ruling and found employee was entitled to healing period benefits.

 

            Eaton Corp. v. Archer, 872 N.W.2d 194 (Iowa Ct. App. 2015)

 

© 2016 McAnany, Van Cleave & Phillips, P.A.

Disclaimer and warning: This information was published by McAnany, Van Cleave & Phillips, P.A., and is to be used only for general informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances.  This is not inclusive of all exceptions and requirements which may apply to any individual claim.  It is imperative to promptly obtain legal advice to determine the rights, obligations and options of a specific situation.