We are just now beginning to see newer claims with injury dates that make them subject to the recent legislative changes made to the Iowa Workers Compensation Act in 2017. For any new claims, it is crucial to be aware of these changes, and how they might impact the claim. The following significant changes in Iowa WC law went into effect on July 1, 2017:
- A shoulder injury is no longer a BAW injury, and the claimant no longer receives industrial disability benefits. Once functional impairment through a rating has been determined, a worker is entitled to receive that percent of impairment applied to a maximum of 400 weeks.
- The Act now provides for retraining at community colleges for employees who cannot return to employment due to shoulder injuries. The change provides for an evaluation by the state workforce department to determine if the employee would benefit from vocational training. If so, and if the employee chooses to enroll in the plan, the employer would have to pay for tuition and fees up to $15,000.
- There is now a presumption that if an employee has a positive drug or alcohol test at the time of injury, that intoxication was a substantial factor in causing the injury.
- The employee now has the burden of proof to overcome the presumption by showing it did not rise to level of intoxication, or that intoxication was not the cause of the injury.
INTEREST ON UNPAID BENEFITS
- Rather than the prior 10% annual interest on unpaid benefits, the interest rate will now be based on the annual rate for one year treasury constant maturity notes plus 2%, resulting in significantly lower interest. Presently that rate would be roughly a full 7% lower than the prior 10%.
PAYMENT OF PERMANENT PARTIAL DISABILITY BENEFITS
- Permanent partial disability benefits do not have to be paid until an injured worker has reached maximum medical improvement and you have an impairment rating. Prior to this PPD was to be paid at MMI or when the employee returned to work.
PERMANENT TOTAL DISABILITY
- An injured worker can only receive either permanent partial disability benefits or permanent total disability benefits, but not both.
- An injured worker cannot receive permanent total disability and unemployment compensation at the same time.
- The worker forfeits their entitlement to permanent total disability for any week in which they receive a payment equal to or greater than 50% of the statewide average weekly wage from either: gross earnings from any employer; or payment for current services from any source.
- Weekly compensation of permanent total disability benefits is payable until the employee is no longer permanently and totally disabled. The previous language provided that compensation is payable during the period of the employee’s disability.
NOTICE OF INJURY AND STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
- For the notice and limitations periods to begin to run, it is no longer required that the worker actually knows that the condition or injury is serious and related to work, but rather that they should have known. This will significantly impact cumulative trauma claims.
LIGHT DUTY WORK
- If a worker’s job requires them to travel more than 50% of the time, then a light duty offer of work at the employer’s principal place of business, or an established place of operation where the employee has previously worked, is presumed to be geographically suitable.
- Light duty work offered by the employer does not have to be work with that employer, and can be light duty through a vendor that provides such services and places employees in temporary positions.
- Offers of light duty work must be communicated in writing, as does a refusal by the employee.
- An employee forfeits their right to receive weekly benefits if they refuse to attend a medical exam set up by the employer. The employee will no longer receive retroactive benefits once they ultimately do attend the IME.
- If the claim goes to trial and the deputy determines the claim is not compensable, the employee cannot recover the cost of the IME.
INDUSTRIAL DISABILITY AND LOSS OF EARNING CAPACITY
- The employee’s loss of earning capacity will now take into account how long the claimant was expected to keep working at the time of the injury. This will likely decrease benefits available to older workers.
- If an employee returns to work or is offered work at the same or higher earnings, then the employee is only entitled to be compensated based upon the impairment rating. However, if that employee is later terminated by the employer, they can bring a re-opening procedure to have the injury reviewed for compensation based on the loss of earning capacity.
- When an employee has successive injuries with the same employer, the employer is only responsible for compensating the employee for the disability resulting from the current injury.
- Employer is only liable for the portion of an employee’s disability related directly to an injury that occurred at their company.
- A worker can now only receive a commutation of an award as a lump sum if the employer and insurance company both agree. Previously a judge could award commutation over the objection of the employer if it was felt to be in the best interests of the employee.
- An attorney cannot recover fees for compensation which is voluntarily paid or agreed to be paid to an employee for temporary or permanent disability benefits.
- An attorney must demonstrate that the benefits over which they are seeking a fee would not have been paid to the employee, but for the actions of the attorney.
- The extent of disability for all future scheduled injuries shall be based solely on impairment ratings according to the AMA Guides, making it clear that consideration of additional testimony and evidence, in an effort to go beyond the ratings, is barred.
JURISDICTION FOR INJURIES OUTSIDE THE STATE OF IOWA
- The changes repeal Iowa jurisdiction for the situation where an employer has a place of business in this state, and the worker lives in Iowa, but does not work out of the employer’s Iowa place of business.
CREDITS FOR EXCESS PAYMENTS
- If an employer makes an overpayment of indemnity benefits, the employer will now get a credit for that overpayment to apply towards liability for TTD, TPD, or PPD for either the current injury, or a future injury with the same employer.
These changes are sweeping and will likely in some way impact the majority of newer claims. They will no doubt be the source of confusion and uncertainty in the near future as both employers and employees attempt to navigate the new workers compensation landscape in Iowa. Please feel free to contact us regarding any questions you may have regarding these very significant changes to the law and how they might apply to your claim.
I&F Partner Terry Donohue handles Iowa claims for the firm and works out of the Chicago and Des Moines offices of Inman and Fitzgibbons. Please feel free contact Terry with any Iowa workers’ compensation questions.