Some Danger Areas in Iowa Work Injury Cases

Today I am going to write about some of the situations that I have seen come up recently in work comp cases in which injured workers ran into trouble, or almost ran into trouble because they did not talk to a workers’ compensation lawyer about their claim. These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. There are an almost infinite number of things that can go wrong, and every case has its own wrinkles and variations.

MISCALCULATING YOUR DEADLINE FOR FILING A WORKERS’ COMPENSATION PETITION. The general rule in Iowa is that if you are injured on the job, but are never paid workers’ compensation benefits, you have to file your workers’ compensation petition within two years of the date of injury. Alternately, if you are injured on the job and are paid workers’ compensation benefits, then your time deadline for filing your workers’ compensation petition is within three years of the last payment of monetary workers’ compensation benefits to you. See here for my March 27, 2013 blog entry which discusses Iowa work comp time limits in greater detail.

Lane v. Spencer Municipal Hospital, Case No. 3-226/12-1358 (June 26, 2013)
is a recent decision from the Iowa Court of Appeals that talks about one of the ways that the time deadline can be miscalculated. In the Lane case the plaintiff was injured on February 28, 2010 and filed their petition on February 29, 2012. The plaintiff’s argument that the petition was timely was based in part on Iowa Code Section 4.1 that provides that in computing time limits the first day is excluded, and the last day is included. Therefore, the plaintiffs in Lane argued that they were entitled to exclude February 28, 2010 when they were injured, and the clock started ticking on March 1, 2010. They then reasoned that moving forward 24 months from March 1, 2010 took them to March 1, 2012. Therefore, the plaintiffs believed that they should have up until the last second of February 29, 2012 for filing their petition. The plaintiff’s position is reasonable, and one member of the Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiff. However, the majority of the Court of Appeals found that the plaintiffs filed their petition one day too late, and therefore their claim was completely barred. The leap year angle in the Lane case is unusual, but there are literally hundreds of Iowa cases dealing with different disputes that arise in calculating the time limits for filing lawsuits.

CORRECTLY NAMING THE EMPLOYER, INSURANCE CARRIER, AND INJURY DATE IN A WORK COMP LAWSUIT. A more common problem is that a worker who has been injured in a job accident doesn’t consult with lawyers until very close to the end of the time limit for filing a workers’ compensation petition. This creates numerous problems, including but not limited to properly identifying the employer, the insurance carrier, and the date of injury.

Figuring out the proper employer name is usually the easiest, but you would be surprised how often this ends up being fairly difficult. It is much more common that the correct name of the insurance company is unknown. Frequently, the injured worker will only have been dealing with an adjusting company or third party administrator which is a different entity than the insurance company. Additionally, although there are online resources for identifying the insurance companies, the information in any particular case might not necessarily be available or accurate. Finally, it is very common that an injured worker does not know exactly when he was hurt, or is incorrect about date of injury.

In our law firm we put a lot of time and effort into making sure that we research these identity issues and injury dates carefully before we file a petition. We also make sure that we file our petition soon enough, and serve the necessary discovery so that if there are problems, that they can be addressed before the time limits expire. However, if an injured worker waits too long the ability to research or amend pleadings might not be available, and can result in the loss of what would otherwise have been a strong workers’ compensation claim.

PROBLEMS RELATING TO HAVING ONE ACCEPTED INJURY AND ONE REJECTED INJURY. It is not uncommon that a worker might have two different work injuries, but the employer is only accepting one as a workers’ compensation injury. For example, a worker might have a shoulder injury that the employer is accepting and paying benefits on; and the worker has also developed a knee injury on the job, but the employer disagrees that the knee injury is a workers’ compensation injury.

The danger is that since the employer only paid workers’ compensation benefits on the shoulder injury the time limit for filing a petition on the shoulder injury is three years after the date of the last payment. Meanwhile, since the employer did not pay benefits on the knee injury, the time limit for filing a workers’ compensation petition concerning the knee injury is two years from the date of injury.

Sometimes workers understandably do not appreciate this crucial distinction, and don’t take any action on the knee injury until it is too late.

SOLUTION. The answer to all of these types of problems is to talk to an experienced lawyer who has dealt with a lot of work comp injury cases. Many lawyers, including the lawyers at our firm, will talk to you about your case without any charge or obligation. A good lawyer can identify the potential danger areas in your case, and give you advice on the time limits you need to comply with, and other issues in your case that could be potential problems.