Legal Update by Attorney Alison Stewart and Law Clerk Jordan Gehlhaar
Happy Holidays from Peddicord Wharton!
We have a few recent updates concerning workers’ compensation matters:
- Commissioner Cortese filed the most recent supervisory order
concerning COVID-19 impact on November 29, 2021. All in-person hearings
are now suspended through April 29, 2022. Hearings are to be held in an
online format, unless the parties are in agreeance and the Deputy, in
their discretion, grants a timely joint motion for an in-person hearing.
Iowa Supreme Court recently interpreted their COVID-related supervisory
orders in the context of a workers’ compensation case in Askvig v. Snap-On Logistics Company.
The order provided that due to the pandemic, the statute of limitations
“or similar deadline for commencing an action in district court” was
tolled—in essence, parties could add an additional 76 days to their
filing deadline. A Deputy Commissioner ruled Claimant Askvig did not
sustain a shoulder injury, and the Commissioner did not act on her
application for rehearing. As such, she had thirty days to file a
petition for judicial review. See Iowa Code §§ 17A.19; 86.29.
When Claimant’s counsel missed the deadline, he argued that the
supervisory order applied, extending the deadline to file such
applications for judicial review of Agency action. The Iowa Supreme
Court rejected this argument on appeal. The Court reasoned that these
are intended to be short appellate
deadlines, so they are a continuation of an existing action, not
“commencing an action.” Additionally, these deadlines are different
because workers’ compensation is an administrative process entrusted to
the executive branch, unlike litigation between private parties.
Therefore, the Court’s extension did not “deny finality to the actions
of [the Agency].”
- In Foster v. East Penn Manufacturing Company,
the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled on penalty benefits for delay. The
employer accepted Foster’s injury and paid for initial treatment and
benefits. However, when the first surgery did not resolve the condition,
the employer refused to authorize a second surgery or pay for temporary
total disability (TTD) benefits. A Deputy Commissioner imposed penalty
benefits and the district court affirmed. The employer appealed,
arguing: (1) the delay was necessary to investigate; (2) there was a
reasonable basis to delay; and (3) there was a good faith basis to
dispute entitlement. The Court of Appeals likewise affirmed the penalty,
finding that even if entitlement was “fairly debatable,” the employer
“missed a step.” In addition to a reasonable basis for denial or delay,
the statue requires an employer to “contemporaneously convey” the basis
for the same. See Iowa Code § 86.13(4). The employer had sent
an email to Claimant’s counsel requesting they hold off on filing a
petition for alternate medical care, but did not notify the Claimant of
their reasoning until months later. Further, there was no evidence in
the record showing that the employer did in fact conduct a timely
investigation during their delay.
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