How Soon Can You Take an Iowa Work Comp Case to Trial?

At an Iowa workers’ compensation trial I need to prove that my client’s injuries arose out of and in the course of their employment, and I have to prove the extent of their damages, and how much money they are entitled to receive. (See here for more detail on what happens at a workers’ compensation trial, and see here for more details on the factors that go into proving how much money an injured worker is entitled to receive). In order to be able to prove the amount of damages it is usually necessary to use one or more expert witnesses. (See here for more details on the use of medical experts, and see here for more details on the use of vocational rehabilitation experts).

In the Iowa workers’ compensation system there are a lot of time deadlines relating to evidence. For example, you simply can’t bring an expert to trial, or submit an expert report at trial without telling the other side. There are very specific time requirements about giving the other side notice of your intent to use experts, and providing the expert reports to opposing counsel a certain amount of time before trial.

In the rest of this blog post I will talk about how an injured worker’s medical status and the expert disclosure rules impact how quickly a case can be brought to trial.

The first key for assessing how soon you can go to trial is for the injured worker to heal to the point that they have reached what is frequently called maximum medical improvement. Maximum medical improvement does not mean that the injured worker is 100% cured, but rather that the worker has improved as much as can be expected and that whatever problems and limitations remain are going to be a permanent condition.
Once the injured worker has reached maximum medical improvement the defendants generally have a duty to obtain an impairment rating and make a voluntary commitment to pay the worker a reasonable amount of permanent partial disability benefits.

EXPERT TIME DEADLINES. Once I know that my client has reached maximum medical improvement and I have the defense impairment rating, I can then figure out the timing of everything else that has to be done to get the case ready for trial. There are several main factors that I take into account in figuring out when to actually file the workers’ compensation petition:

1. Once a workers’ compensation petition is filed this means that the case must come on for trial within 12 months of the petition filing date.

2. There are a lot of deadlines in Iowa workers’ compensation law, but one of the keys is that 120 days before trial I need to file a certification of all of the experts that I will be using. This expert certification has to disclose:

a. The name of my expert.

b. The subject matter of my expert’s expertise.

c. The qualifications of my expert.

d. A summary of my expert’s opinions.

3. I also have to figure out how much time will be necessary to gather all of the underlying medical records, and schedule examinations or meetings between my experts and my client. I also have to factor in how long it will take my expert to write their report to allow me to serve it on defense counsel to satisfy the deadlines concerning revealing the expert opinions.

4. Additionally, in some cases I use multiple experts, and the work of one expert might rely on the work of another expert. Therefore, I need to make sure that there is enough time to get all the expert reports completed and served within the deadline requirements.

An example involving two interrelated experts would be a case in which I would use a medical expert to give opinions on causation, the impairment rating, and recommended work restrictions. Additionally, I might also use a vocational rehabilitation expert to help prove the extent of industrial disability. In order for the vocational rehabilitation expert to do their best job, he or she also needs to review and consider the report of our medical expert.

CONCLUSION. Preparation is one of the keys to success in Iowa Workers’ Compensation. By planning out your strategy at the beginning, and taking all the steps to present a persuasive case at trial, you are in the best possible position to settle the claim on good terms or present a strong case at trial.