Trials in Iowa Work Comp Cases

Trials are important in all areas of law. However, they are especially important in the Iowa work comp arena because so many of the cases do proceed to trial. Additionally, even when an Iowa work comp case is settled, the amount of the settlement is primarily determined by the parties’ estimate of what would have been the result if the case had proceeded to trial.

This section of the website is going to give an outline of what happens in Iowa work comp trials and our law firm’s strategy for trials.

Procedure in Iowa Work Comp Trials

Iowa work comp trials are generally limited to three hours in length, but longer trials can be obtained.

Medical records and the expert reports are automatically admitted into evidence as long as the documents are shared between the parties according to specific time limits. Our lawyers spend a lot of time and effort complying with these deadlines.

Iowa work comp trials are not in front of juries. Instead, a Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner hears the case and eventually issues a written decision. The Deputy Work Comp Commissioners are all lawyers, and generally have had extensive experience in litigating workers’ compensation cases before they became Deputy Commissioners.

Very brief opening statements and closing statements are sometimes used. However, the Deputy Commissioners generally prefer that the lawyers use a Joint Hearing Report instead of an opening statement to outline the issues.

Rather than closing statements the Deputy Commissioners generally prefer that the lawyers file Post Trial Briefs after the trial. In the Post Trial Briefs our law firm sets out our arguments on behalf of our clients, and cites to the evidence supporting our positions.

The old saying that the “devil is in the details” definitely applies in work comp cases. In order to win on the big issues of liability and damages our lawyers work very hard on a mountain of details.

There are ten general categories of issues that come up in workers’ compensation trials. The remainder of this section will talk about each of these issues.

1. Was There an Employer-employee Relationship?

In most cases there is not a controversy over whether the injured worker is an employee of the employer. However, in the construction trades and in truck driving there is more room to debate whether the injured worker was an employee or an independent contractor. The law on the dividing line between an employee and an independent contractor is very complex. If you are injured on the job and the employer is claiming that you are an independent contractor that is not entitled to work comp benefits, you should talk to a lawyer. You may find out that you actually qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.

2. Did the Worker Sustain an Injury Which “Arose out of and in the Course of” Employment?

The most common fighting issue in this area is whether the injured claimant’s work activities caused the injury, or whether the claimant had a pre-existing condition that was aggravated by work activities. As a general matter even though a worker might have a pre-existing condition, or be more susceptible to a work injury than most people, as long as the work activity substantially aggravated the pre-existing condition the worker will be entitled to receive work comp benefits.

3. Was the Employer Given Timely Notice of the Work Injury and Was a Workers’ Compensation Petition Filed Within the Necessary Time Limits?

Under Iowa law the injured worker has to comply with two time limit requirements. First, there is a notice requirement. Under Iowa workers’ compensation law a worker needs to give notice of a work injury to the employer within 90 days of the date of injury. Iowa law does have a number of exceptions that can extend the notice period. However, the much better policy is not to hope that you fall within one of these exceptions. Instead, be sure to give notice of a work injury to your employer as soon as you are aware of a potential injury.

Next, the claimant needs to file a workers’ compensation petition within the time limit. There are two different time limits for this petition filing requirement. If the claimant was never paid any weekly workers’ compensation checks, then the Petition must be filed within two years of the date of injury. If the worker was paid any weekly checks, then the time limit for filing a work comp petition is three years after the last payment of benefits.

4. What Is the Value of an Injury to a Scheduled Member?

Iowa law provides for a maximum amount of potential permanent partial disability benefits for injuries to the leg, foot, arm, hand, eyes, hearing, fingers, and toes. The extent of disability for all of these types of scheduled injuries is based on impairment ratings. The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner currently prefers impairment ratings that are based on the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (5th Ed.)

By way of example, an arm injury is worth a maximum of 250 weeks. This means that if your arm was completely amputated in a work injury you would be entitled to 250 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits. If your arm was injured so that a Deputy Commissioner decided that you had a 10% impairment of the arm, you would be entitled to 25 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits. (Maximum of 250 weeks of PPD benefits for an arm injury x 10% = 25 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits).

In cases involving scheduled injuries each side is entitled to obtain impairment ratings from physicians of their own choice. Our law firm carefully selects physicians to perform the impairment ratings that are qualified to work with the AMA Guides, and who are considered objective and persuasive by the Deputy Commissioners.

At trials in scheduled injury cases our lawyers also present the necessary evidence through the testimony of the injured worker and other witnesses to support our physician’s impairment rating.

5. What Is the Value of an Industrial Disability Injury?

Industrial disability injuries generally involved injuries to the head, neck, shoulder, back, and hips.

These industrial disability injuries are generally worth a maximum of 500 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits. However, if a worker is found to have suffered permanent total disability, then the worker is entitled to receive weekly benefits for the rest of their life.

The main issue in industrial disability cases is how much the injury has hurt the claimant’s ability to obtain employment in the competitive job market.

Impairment ratings are important in industrial disability cases, but permanent work restrictions are probably the biggest factor in determining the extent of industrial disability. Again, our law firm uses high quality expert witnesses to give opinions on these issues in order to obtain good results for our clients.

For more information on industrial disability injuries look at these additional sections of our website: “Back and Neck Injuries”, “Shoulder Injuries”, “Permanent Total Disability: What Happens If You Can Never Work Again After an Injury.

6. Is the Employee Entitled to Additional Healing Period Benefits?

Frequently, our law firm deals with cases in which the injury was denied. Therefore, while our clients were off work with injuries they were not receiving the weekly healing period benefits that they should have been paid. As part of our trials we always make sure that we obtain awards for our clients for these past missed healing period benefits.

7. What Is the Correct Weekly Workers’ Compensation Rate?

The general rule for determining an injured worker’s weekly work comp rate is to calculate the average earnings from the 13 weeks prior to the injury. You then take this resulting average weekly wage, and apply it to tables published by the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner which have different rates depending on whether the injured worker is single or married, and how many exemptions he is entitled to claim on his tax returns. The underlying philosophy is to come up with a workers’ compensation rate that is roughly equal to the worker’s regular post-tax wages.

Our lawyers always obtain a detailed history of the claimant’s earnings because there are many exceptions and variables that can result in a higher work comp rate for our clients. For example, unrepresentational weeks in which a worker received a low check can be excluded from the calculations in some situations. Bonuses can be prorated and worked into the calculation in other cases. In some situations the difference between the weekly rate paid by the insurance company, and the weekly rate that we are able to obtain for our clients is very substantial.

8. Has the Employer Paid for All of the Medical Care?

In cases in which the insurance company has denied the work comp claim, our clients frequently have had to make payments toward co-pays and deductibles in order to receive medical care for their injuries. Our lawyers always make sure that we obtain the documentation for these out-of-pocket expenses and get our clients reimbursed for these medical payments as part of the trial award.

9. Is the Employer Entitled to Any Credits Against the Trial Award?

The issue of credits most frequently comes up in situations where the employer and insurance carrier have denied that the worker was injured on the job, but the worker receives non-work comp disability payments. If the employer paid for some or all of the premiums for the disability coverage, the employer is entitled to receive a credit for those disability payments against any workers’ compensation trial award. Under Iowa law the employer is only entitled to a credit for the net amount of the disability payments, and not the gross amount of the disability payments.

10. Taxation of Costs.

In a workers’ compensation trial the Deputy Commissioner can order one party to pay for certain costs incurred by the other party. Our lawyers always try to maximize this recovery of costs in order to increase the recovery of our clients.

The potentially recoverable costs include court reporter fees from any depositions, deposition transcript costs, the expense of serving the Original Notice and any Subpoenas, witness fees and expenses, a portion of the costs of any doctors’ deposition testimony, the reasonable cost of obtaining doctors’ reports, filing fees, and independent medical exams. The amount of costs that can be recovered can easily work out to be several thousand dollars.

Please be sure to contact our lawyers if you have any questions about workers’ compensation trials, or any other issue involving Iowa work comp law.