Articles Posted in Trial

We were fortunate that when the COVID problems developed the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner had already made several technology changes so that the system was in place to allow the injured workers and insurance companies to conduct remote trials.

One of the changes is that the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner had gone to an electronic filing system in 2019.  The electronic filing applies to all documents in the system, including the paperwork for trials.

In Iowa work comp cases the parties are required to cooperate to put together a set of joint medical exhibits for the case.

The Iowa Workers Compensation Commissioner entered a recent Appeal Decision on March 19, 2019 in the case of Tammy Roberson v. Sears Holdings Corporation and Indemnity Insurance Company of North America which  highlights the importance of expert opinions in Iowa work comp cases.  In some situations it is very clear that an injury was caused by work.  This would be where a worker is struck by a forklift, cut by a knife, etc.  However, in many other situations, it is not always clear whether an injury was caused by cumulative trauma at work or whether an injury was unrelated to work and just caused by natural degenerative changes.

Under Iowa law, the cause of an injury is essentially within the domain of expert testimony.  The Work Comp Commissioner considers the expert medical evidence along with all of the other evidence in the case.  Testimony from non-medical witnesses may be used to support or attack expert opinions.  The amount of weight to be given to an expert opinion is determined initially by the Deputy Work Comp Commissioners at trial, and then by the Commissioner if the case is appealed.  The Deputy Commissioners and the Commission have the power to accept or reject expert opinion either in whole or in part.

In the Roberson case, the Claimant was 53 years old at the time of trial.  She had a high school education.  The Claimant also had an extensive and varied work history.  She had worked as a flagger on a construction crew.  She had worked as a supervisor of tar pickers, power washers and ropers.  The Claimant had also worked as a bartender, waitress and a cook.  She had worked as a shipping and receiving clerk.  She had worked as a CNA.  She had worked as a planter in a greenhouse. She had worked in a grocery store as a cash register operator and stocking shelves and working at the customer service desk.  She had worked for a railroad support company and drove railroad crews around the country.  Her job with Sears Holdings Corporation included customer service, stocking, inventory, assembly, shipping, and operating a forklift.

I decided to look for a Christmas related topic for this work comp blog entry.  The 2002 workers’ compensation case of Smith v. Carl A. Nelson & Company and Wausau Insurance Companies had a Christmas tie-in.  The Claimant was a construction worker with Carl A. Nelson & Company and generally performed concrete work.  The Claimant was laid off during the winters.  The Claimant underwent regular performance reviews and his productivity before his work injury had always been rated as “exceptional.”

In May of 1999 the Claimant suffered a low-back injury.  The Claimant received conservative treatment and did not undergo surgery.  However, he was off work for the remainder of the 1999 construction.  The Claimant was not able to return to work until May of 2000.  The Claimant testified that he had a difficult time performing his usual duties during the 2000 construction season and co-workers had to help him.

In late fall of 2000 the Claimant was placed on his usual winter lay off.  At the start of the lay off the Claimant was not worried about his job, but he testified he figured he was in trouble when he was not invited to the annual Christmas party.  The Claimant was not called back to work in the spring of 2001.

The first blog post I ever wrote over six years ago was entitled, “The Most Important Work Comp Advice: Always Tell the Truth.”  You can read that blog post here.  There are very few perfect work comp cases, and I am very comfortable addressing the weaknesses in my cases.  However, if a work comp judge decides that a claimant is not honest, then the case is in big trouble.

The Work Comp Commissioner issued an appeal decision in the case of Hall v. Apple Creek Kennel and Travelers Property Casualty Company of America on June 29, 2018.  The claimant was found to be dishonest, but fortunately for her just managed to avoid having her workers’ compensation benefits taken away.  All of the risk and danger could have been avoided if the claimant had been straightforward in her testimony.

The story started back on April 21, 2013.  The claimant was 32 years old and was working as a veterinary assistant.  This was a type of job she had generally worked since she graduated from high school.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed a recent appeal decision in the case of Michael McBurney v. Agri Star Meat & Poultry.

Mr. McBurney’s claim was that he was knocked down by a fork lift and suffered a low back injury.

The Employer and Workers’ Compensation Insurance Company defended the case based on the following arguments:

We have added a new section to our website that covers trials in Iowa work comp cases.  The section talks about how our lawyers handle the major recurring issues in Iowa work comp trials, that include:

  1. Was there an employer-employee relationship?
  2. Did the worker sustain an injury which “arose out of and in the course of” employment?

An important part of most the Iowa workers’ comp cases that I handle is to get a good medical report from a neutral doctor to support my client’s case. When I send my clients to see the doctor that will write the report, that appointment is called an Independent Medical Exam or IME. The written analysis that the doctor eventually provides is usually referred to as the IME report.

I pick the physicians that I use for the IME process based on my past experience with the doctors that provide this type of service. I also read the decisions that are issued by the Workers’ Compensation Judges to stay up to date on what the Judges think of the opinions of the various experts that perform IMEs in Iowa.

Today I am going to talk about my strategy for the letters, records and other items that I send to the IME doctor. The IME doctor will read my letter and the enclosed documents before seeing my clients. After seeing the injured worker the IME doctor will answer my questions as part of the doctor’s report on my client.

People frequently ask me whether I can help them recover more money in an Iowa work injury case than they can get on their own. In this blog post I am going to talk about the benefits of hiring an experienced Iowa workers’ compensation attorney if you have been hurt on the job.

1. FREE CONSULTATIONS. Many Iowa attorneys, including lawyers at our firm, will talk to you for free about your case. In these meetings we probably will not be able to figure out everything about your case, but usually we can give you a pretty good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of your case, and an overview of what our strategy would be to handle your case if you wanted to hire us.

2. CONTINGENT FEE. We represent our clients in workers’ compensation, personal injury and wrongful death cases on what is called a contingent fee basis. This means that we get paid a percentage of what we are able to recover for our clients. It also means that if we don’t recover for our clients, then they do not have to pay us.

Back on July 31, 2013 I wrote about the discovery requests that defendants ask injured workers in Iowa workers’ compensation cases. You can see that post here.

Today I am going to talk about the discovery that I conduct on behalf of my injured clients in Iowa work comp cases.

The two types of written discovery are Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents. In Interrogatories I get to ask the defendants specific questions that they have to answer. With my Requests for Production of Documents I get to require the defendants to give me copies of records and reports that are relevant to the case.

I am giving a presentation at the Iowa Association for Justice Fall Work Comp Seminar that is coming up on September 6, 2013. Here is a modified version of that presentation in which I set out my thoughts on how to best represent injured workers in Iowa workers’ compensation cases.

I. General Philosophy

1. I have developed a lot of check lists and forms, and I keep expanding them every time I run across something good.