Discovery by Defendants in Iowa Workers’ Compensation Cases

In this post I am going to talk about the discovery process in Iowa work injury cases. Discovery is just the legal term for the process of investigating the case and asking the other side questions in a formal process. Both the injured worker and the defendants get to conduct discovery.

Under the discovery rules neither side gets to keep very many things secret. One policy idea behind not allowing secrets is that if each side has a clear and complete view of the case they can probably work out a fair settlement. A second policy idea behind the discovery process is to have the cases tried and decided on the merits, and avoid what used to be called “trial by ambush.”

Today I am going to start by talking about the usual discovery that the defendants conduct. In a later post I will talk about the discovery I conduct on behalf of injured workers.

Interrogatories are written questions that must be answered in writing and under oath. I work with my clients to put together complete and accurate answers.

Different defense lawyers ask different questions, but almost everyone tries to get answers to certain issues.

The defense always wants to know the injured worker’s complete name, any previous names, date of birth and Social Security Number. This information allows the defense to do better background checks on the claimant. The defense is generally hoping that it turns out that the worker has felony convictions, a long history of past litigation, or anything else that the defense can use to try to put the claimant in a negative light.

The defense generally wants the details of your education and work history. These are big factors in deciding how much injuries to your back, neck, shoulders and other unscheduled body parts are worth. See here for my blog post of May 29, 2012 that explains the process of determining how much compensation should by paid for such injuries.

The defense usually wants detailed information about any expert witnesses that are going to be used on behalf of the injured worker. See here for my blog post of December 21, 2012 that explains the importance of obtaining high quality expert medical opinions; and see here for my blog post of April 5, 2013 about how vocational rehabilitation experts can help prove the extent of industrial disability.

The defense will also want to know what doctors and medical providers the injured worker has seen in his life. The defense will frequently obtain these records and look for evidence of previous problems with the same body part. If the defense can show prior problems with the same body part they will then frequently try to argue that the work injury was only a temporary aggravation of a pre-existing condition, and that there should be little or no compensation awarded for the work injury. The Iowa work comp law on aggravation of pre-existing conditions is generally favorable to the injured worker, and you can read my November 16, 2012 blog post on the issue here.

If your employer fired you after your work injury they generally will want to know about your job search efforts since your termination. If you had a serious injury on the job, got fired by your employer, and can’t find a new job, then there is a possibility that you will qualify for what is called permanent total disability. See here for my April 25, 2013 injury that talks about permanent total disability in more detail.

The defendants are also entitled to require the injured worker and his lawyer to produce documents and other items that could potentially relate to the case.

A standard production request is to have the injured work sign and return the necessary releases to allow the defense to get copies of records from medical providers, past employers and other sources.

The production requests will also ask for records and documentation that cover the same issues asked about in the interrogatories to the injured worker.

The defendants are also entitled to take the deposition of the injured worker and any other witnesses. As a general matter, the defendants usually only depose the injured worker and perhaps the expert witnesses of the claimant.

A deposition in simply a face to face interview between the defense lawyer and the witness. The witness is required to swear to tell the truth. The lawyer asks questions and (with a few rare exceptions) the witness is required to answer the questions. A court reporter is also at the deposition and takes down all the questions and answers. Eventually, the court reporter produces what is called a transcript of the deposition. The transcript is a word-by-word account in writing of all the questions and answers from the deposition. Either party can use the deposition at the eventual work comp trial.

Almost everyone who gets deposed is nervous ahead of time. I prepare my clients for their depositions and I also attend the deposition and make objections and ask my own questions when it is appropriate.

There are a lot of details that go into responding to discovery requests, but the most important part of answering any discovery is to always tell the truth.