Law School Case Brief
Ranney v. Parawax Co. - 582 N.W.2d 152 (Iowa 1998)
A petition for workers' compensation benefits under Iowa Code ch. 85 must be filed within two years from the date of the occurrence of the injury for which benefits are claimed. Iowa Code § 85.26(1). The court interprets this statute to mean that the injury occurs when it is discovered. Thus, the two-year limitation period begins to run when the employee discovers or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should discover the nature, seriousness and probable compensable character of his injury or disease.
Joseph W. Ranney III worked for the defendant, Parawax Company, Inc., from 1975 through February 1981. During that time he was exposed to toxic materials in the course of his regular duties. In 1985, Ranney became ill and was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. Ranney, although suspicious that his disease was causally connected to his former employment, did not file his action until almost seven years after leaving Parawax. He filed at that time because after several attempts he finally found a physician that committed to the belief that his disease was connected to his former employment. Ranney appealed the industrial commissioner’s summary judgment granted to Parawax in his workers' compensation action. The district court affirmed the summary judgment that was based upon Ranney's failure to bring his action within the two-year statute of limitations of Iowa Code § 85.26(1).
Did the two-year statute of limitations of Iowa Code § 85.26(1) begin to run only when Ranney found a physician that committed to the belief that his disease was connected to his former employment?
The court interpreted § 85.26(1) to mean that the two year period began to run when in the exercise of reasonable diligence he should have discovered the probable compensable character of his disease. Ranney had actual knowledge of the seriousness of his disease, and he also had imputed knowledge of its compensable character. The court held that his disease was not latent, but patent when he was diagnosed with the disease. Next he was on inquiry notice because he both suspected the cause, and learned that the chemicals he was exposed to caused disease, and that others had successfully sued for damages. In reaching this conclusion, the court rejected Ranney's claim that he could not have known because he did not have positive medical proof of the connection, because attempts to find an expert did not toll the limitations period.
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