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Legal Update by Attorney Alison Stewart
Once the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner makes an arbitration award, instead of receiving permanent disability or death benefits on a weekly basis, the Claimant can opt to receive payment in a lump sum. In some cases, both parties elect this option as a way to resolve a particular claim. The legislative changes in 2017 impacted these provisions in that commutations of any type could only be obtained with the consent of both parties and upon approval by the Commissioner. In cases where both parties are in agreement that a commutation is appropriate, these new changes will remove the barriers to this type of resolution that had previously been in place. Prior to the rule change, all commutations required (1) the Claimant to establish financial need to receive an award in a lump sum, and (2) a prescribed period of remaining benefits (10 consecutive, un-accrued weeks of indemnity benefits). Previously, in order to make use of the Full Commutation option for resolution, the parties were required to establish that a minimum of ten un-accrued indemnity benefits remained outstanding.
6.2(6): Statement of Need: "If all parties are represented by an attorney, the parties may waive the statement of need, unless the case involves a dependent who is a minor."
6.2(9): Best Interests of Claimant: "If all parties are represented by an attorney, a commutation of benefits is presumed to be in the best interests of the claimant."
6.2(10) Definitely Determined Period of Time: "If all parties are represented by an attorney, the parties may stipulate to the definitely determined period of compensation."
Going forward, where both parties are represented and are in agreement that a commutation is appropriate, a commutation will be presumed to be in the best interest of the Claimant. Practically speaking, this means Claimants will no longer be required to identify on the Full Commutation documents why they are in need of a lump sum settlement or how they intend to spend their settlement proceeds, unless they are a minor. In addition, where all parties are represented, the parties may stipulate to the period of commutation involved in commuting the award or settlement. Parties attempting to settle via Full Commutation will no longer be required to establish consecutive weeks of indemnity paid in the past or that there are at least ten remaining weeks owed in the future to satisfy the prior Full Commutation requirements. Parties now merely need to agree on the period of compensation. Note, pursuant to Iowa Administrative Code section 876-6.3(2), unless the discount is waived by the insurance carrier, the future benefits that are commuted are discounted to their present value at the rate of interest on judgments and decrees.
These rules went into effect March 25, 2023 for Full Commutations going forward.
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