Injured Workers Allowed to Report Work Injury Late Due to Discovery Rule

In two decisions filed on May 29, 2008, one by the Iowa Supreme Court and one by the Iowa Court of Appeals, injured workers were allowed to report a work injury beyond the normal 90-day statutory limit for reporting work injuries.

In The Dexter Company v. Connelly, the claimant sustained a low back injury at work on April 16, 2003, and reported it in August, 2003, after he saw a neurosurgeon. While the Iowa Supreme Court found that the discovery rule required specific facts to determine whether it applied, the Court found that the claimant was justified in waiting until he saw the neurosurgeon before realizing that this was a work injury. As a result, the agency and the Iowa Supreme Court concluded that the report was timely, although it was not within 90 days of the injury, due to the discovery rule.

In Pella Corporation v. Mennenga, decided by the Iowa Court of Appeals, the claimant felt shoulder pain in June of 2003, which was originally felt to be a strain. In September of 2003, the shoulder injury was found to be more serious, and Mr. Mennenga reported it to his employer well beyond the 90-day period normally required for reporting work injuries. However, citing Johnson v. Heartland Specialty Foods, 672 N.W.2d 326 (Iowa 2003) the Court applied the discovery rule to extend the period to report the injury, noting that the worker does not have to report the injury until he or she recognizes or should recognize "the nature, seriousness, and probable compensable character of the condition."

Also in Mennenga, the employer argued to the Court that the Commissioner should be required to specify a single date for a work injury. In this case, there was a preceding injury in 2001, and the Commissioner apportioned half of the disability to the 2001 and the 2003 injury dates. The Court noted that no authority was cited to support the employer's position, and did not disturb the Commissioner's decision.