In Myers v. R.R. Donnelly & Sons Co., No. 17-0306, the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled that an employee failed to file his claim for worker’s compensation within the statutory two year period, and as a result dismissed his claim.
Under Iowa’s Worker’s Compensation laws, injured employees must file a claim within two years of the date of injury. However, when an injury develops over a period of time, Iowa law applies a “date of discovery” rule. Under that rule, the time limit does not begin to run “until the claimant knows or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should know ‘the nature, seriousness, and probable compensable character of his or her injury.”
Here, claimant Myers was employed by R.R. Donnelly & Sons Co. as a press operator beginning in 1984. Myers began developing back pain, and first began treatment in 1999. By 2003, Myers had on-and-off work restrictions. Myers testified that he knew by 2009 that work was aggravating his back. During this period, Myers received considerable treatment for his back, and substantial amounts of short-term disability benefits in 2009.
On February 21, 2011, Myers was examined by a physician, who noted “Unfortunately, he has been developing increasing back pain with radicular symptoms. [Myers] notes it has been increasingly intolerable to work at this time.” On November 20, 2012, Myers received permanent restrictions which could not be accommodated by R.R. Donnelly & Sons Co., and was terminated.
On April 2, 2013, Myers filed his claim for workers’ compensation. R.R. Donnelly asserted that Myers’s claim was untimely under Iowa Code section 85.26(1).
At hearing, the deputy workers’ compensation commissioner determined the injury date was February 25, 2009, when a physician diagnosed Myers with “disabling mechanical back and bilateral buttock pain,” referred him for surgery, and placed Myers on six months of work restrictions. Myers appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, who determined that, pursuant to the discovery rule, the date of injury was February 21, 2011, when Myers’ physician noted that the back pain was work-related. Myers again appealed to the district court, which affirmed the workers’ compensation commissioner’s ruling.
On appeal, the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed, yet again, finding the date of injury to be no later than February 21, 2011. The Court noted that, under Iowa law, an injury is manifested when a reasonable claimant would be plainly aware that:
- He/she suffers from a condition or injury; and
- This condition or injury was caused by the claimant’s employment.
Myers did not dispute that he knew the nature of his injury by February 21, 2011, but rather claimed that he did not appreciate the seriousness of the injury at that time. However, the Court found that the record contained sufficient evidence demonstrating his awareness that his condition was serious, citing:
- Myers’s testimony that he knew his back pain was work-related between 2009 and 2011;
- The evaluation on February 21, 2011, noting that Myers’s back pain was increasing and that work was “intolerable”; and
- The six months’ of work restrictions place on Myers on February 29, 2011.
On those facts, the Court found that Myers knew the nature, seriousness, and compensable character of his injuries by February 21, 2011. Accordingly, his claim filed on April 2, 2013, was beyond the two-year limit and untimely.