Get Your Questions Answered Today By Burlington, IA Injury Attorney Nicholas Pothitakis

After an injury or accident, you probably have a number of general questions about who was at fault, whether you are owed compensation, and whether you need an attorney to assist you with your claim. Below, we've answered some of the most common questions that we hear at our law firm.
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  • How does the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act benefit injured workers?

    Workers’ compensation has existed in Iowa for over 100 years. The state first adopted laws addressing work injuries in 1913, and over the years has developed a system that is noted as one of the most efficient and cost-effective in the nation. In addition, Iowa workers’ compensation benefits are the most generous, offering the highest weekly rate of payment according to the most recent data available. Employers and employees alike benefit from the protections of the workers’ compensation system, which are set by the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act. Here, we take a closer look at this law to help injured workers betters understand their rights and the benefits available to them and their families.

    A Brief History of the Workers’ Compensation System

    In the 19th century, the United States experienced an industrial boom—and, along with it, a significant increase in workplace injuries. After these accidents, injured workers were left facing not only the physical pain and limitations of their injuries but also the financial strain of missed work and lost income. For those workers, the only way to provide for their care and ensure financial security was to sue their employers. This would begin a lengthy and costly legal battle for both employer and employee.

    Eventually, every state would adopt a workers’ compensation program to address this problem. These programs represent a compromise between the interests of employers and employees: employers would provide medical care and compensation regardless of fault, while employees would be limited in their ability to sue employers. Today, every state regulates a workers’ compensation program, though the details can vary greatly from state to state.

    The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act

    As in other states, officials in Iowa recognized the need for an effective workers’ compensation system that would protect workers and employers. The law has evolved over the years, and today it is reflected in Iowa Code Section 85. The act establishes the state system that allows Iowa workers to obtain medical care and wage replacement if they are injured or fall ill on the job.

    Some of the main tenets of the system are:

    • Only injuries or illnesses that result directly from work are covered. Employers are not responsible for providing care and compensation for injuries that are sustained outside of the scope of employment. However, activities included under the scope of employment fall under a wide range, including travel for work, participation in work-related social events, and more.
       
    • Benefits are available regardless of fault. Even if the worker is responsible for his injury, he can still obtain benefits. There are certain exceptions, but this covers most injuries that arise on the job. Additionally, if the injury results in the death of the worker, surviving family members may be eligible to receive benefits.
       
    • Employees are protected from retaliation. Many injured employees are concerned that they will suffer negative consequences at work if they pursue a workers’ compensation claim. State law makes it illegal for employers to retaliate in any form, whether through demotions, threats, reduced time, or other means.

    Benefits Available Through the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act

    There are two main types of benefits provided by the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act for both employees and their families. State law requires the most employers either carry workers’ compensation insurance or self-insure to provide these benefits, which are:

    • Medical benefits. Employers or their insurance company will cover all reasonable medical expenses related to the work injury, including doctor visits, hospital stays, medications, rehabilitation, travel to appointments, and more. Medical benefits can be obtained regardless of whether the employee is forced to miss work due to the injury or illness.
       
    • Wage replacement. Weekly compensation is paid while the employee is out of work as a result of the injury. These payments follow a schedule set by the state depending on the nature and severity of the injury. Payment begins on the fourth day of missed work. If more than 14 days of work are lost because of the injury, the employee is also paid for the initial four days. The current maximum rate for wage loss is 80 percent of the employee’s weekly spendable earnings.

    Under the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act, state workers are protected from physical, emotional, and financial hardship that can accompany a job-related injury or illness. If you or someone you love has suffered such an injury, the experienced attorney at Pothitakis Law Firm can help you understand this law and make sure you receive all the benefits to which you are entitled. Take a moment to fill out the contact form on this page to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your case.
     

  • If I’m at fault for my work injury, can I still receive workers’ compensation benefits in Iowa?

    One of the main tenets of the workers’ compensation system is the payment of benefits regardless of fault. Even if an employee caused his own injury, he is typically still able to obtain benefits. The system specifically addresses this issue to help protect both employees and employers. Employees are able to obtain medical care and wage replacement so they can get back to work, and employers are left facing only limited liability.

    The general rule does have limits, however. There are a number of circumstances in which an employee’s actions may disqualify him from receiving worker’s compensation benefits. It is important to understand these situations and what your rights may be. Here, we examine some of the more common behavioral issues that can affect workers’ eligibility.

    Certain Behaviors Can Disqualify an Employee From Workers’ Comp Benefits

    The guidelines for workers’ compensation eligibility in Iowa generally specify that a company employee must suffer an injury in the course of work. There are some circumstances under which an employee can rightfully be denied compensation for an injury sustained at work, however. Most states have similar rules about these situations, and they include:

    • Horseplay. When an employee engages in horseplay on the job and is injured as a result, he may not be eligible for compensation. Note, however, that there have been exceptions to this rule which we will discuss below.
       
    • Drug or alcohol use. If an employee is injured while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, an employer is not responsible for providing payment for an injury sustained at work. In these cases, the intoxication must have been the main factor in the injury.
       
    • Self-inflicted injury or fighting. The state of Iowa specifies that “willful intent to injure the employee’s self or to willfully injure another” can disqualify an employee from benefits. Employers do not have to pay benefits to employees whose injures are sustained in a fight, even if the fight happened at the place of business or even related to business disagreements.
       
    • Acting in direct violation of stated company policy. Employers have the right to set guidelines and rules to help promote the safety of their employees. Workers who are aware of these policies but choose to act against them may not be eligible for benefits.
       
    • Acts of a third party. If a third party causes injury to an employee—deliberately or through negligence—the employer is generally is not compelled to provide compensation.

    Obtaining Benefits Despite These Behaviors

    While it may be difficult to obtain workers’ compensation benefits if you are injured in one of these scenarios, it still can be possible. Every case is unique, and often employers bear the burden of proving that the workers’ behavior disqualifies them from eligibility. In many of these cases, the employer must be able to prove:

    • The behavior was the main cause of the injury. If an employee is under the influence of alcohol or drugs and is injured, it still must be proven that intoxication was the primary cause of the injury. In 2011, a Montana park worker was mauled by grizzly bear on the job after using marijuana. The courts there, however, ruled that his drug use played no role in the attack and awarded him compensation.
       
    • The behavior was outside the accepted norm at the workplace. The workplace culture can also play a role in determining compensation eligibility. If horseplay routinely occurs and is either encouraged or ignored by the management, the worker may still obtain benefits. Additionally, company policies that are routinely and widely violated with impunity may not bar an employee from receiving compensation. Finally, there are situations in which use of alcohol occurs as a normal part of employment, and those circumstances can be covered by workers’ compensation.

    An Experienced Iowa Workers’ Compensation Attorney Can Help

    If you or someone you love has suffered injuries at work in a situation related to any of these behaviors, it may be difficult to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. However, an experienced Iowa attorney can examine your unique situation and help you determine how best to move forward. The Iowa workers’ compensation system exists to protect employees and ensure their well-being. Even if you are worried your claim will be denied, an attorney may be able to help.

    At Pothitakis Law Firm, our experienced legal team can investigate your claim, secure expert testimony, prepare paperwork, and frame your case to help you obtain the maximum compensation available. Take a moment to fill out the contact form on this page, and you’ll get a prompt response from a member of our team who can answer your questions and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

  • What are the different types of workers’ compensation settlements?

    Typically, workers’ compensation benefits are paid weekly to injured workers. Many of these types of payments are for temporary injuries, and it is more effective to address these benefits on a weekly basis.

    There are certain situations, however, in which the injured employee or his family may find that a settlement agreement is a preferred option. In these circumstances, a one-time payment or a specific amount paid over time can be offered to the worker. There are a number of different settlement options, though, and each one carries with it certain stipulations. It is important for injured workers and their families to understand the details of a settlement to ensure their rights are fully protected while obtaining the maximum amount of compensation. Here, we take a look at the different settlement options.

    Why Choose a Settlement Rather Than Weekly Payments?

    There are some definite benefits of pursuing a settlement in your workers’ compensation. First, a settlement can provide a lump sum of money. Some settlement arrangements offer injured workers cash all at once, rather than waiting for a weekly check. This can be important to employees and their families who have specific needs right now.

    Additionally, a settlement offer is guaranteed money. Weekly benefits can be terminated at any time depending on your situation. If you and your attorney feel it is likely that your benefits may be terminated sooner than you desire, a settlement can ensure compensation. This can be especially important for those whose insurer or employer is disputing the ongoing need for the employee to be away from work.

    Types of Iowa Workers’ Compensation Settlements

    There are a number of ways a settlement can be reached in an Iowa workers’ compensation claim. There are different types of settlements, as well as different ways these settlements are paid. The types of settlements include:

    • Agreement settlement. This resolves the amount and extent of compensation due. It must be approved by the Workers’ Compensation Commission, and it does not affect the worker’s rights with respect to future compensation regarding the settled injury.
       
    • Compromise settlement. When there is a dispute over whether or not the injured worker is entitled to benefits, a compromise settlement can be reached. It also must be approved the Workers’ Compensation Commission, though it does terminate any future compensation for the settled injury. It may still be possible to obtain medical benefits, however, at the discretion of the commissioner.
       
    • Contingent settlement. Any type of settlement can be made contingent upon a specific event, such as when Medicare approval is needed. If the event does not occur, the settlement may be vacated.

    Settlement Payments Can be Made in Installments or Lump Sums

    In Iowa, settlement agreements are typically paid out in installments, similar to the weekly benefit payments. However, there are cases where it is possible to obtain a lump-sum settlement. To be eligible for these lump-sum payments, it must be shown that the worker has a specific need for a lump-sum payment, and also that it’s in the best interest of the worker to be awarded the lump-sum payment.

    When approved by the Workers’ Compensation Commission, an injured worker may be paid:

    • Full commutation. This is a one-time payment made to the injured worker encompassing all future benefits. It must be approved by the commission, and it will terminate any future benefits related to the settled injury, including medical benefits.
       
    • Partial commutation. This is a lump-sum payment for part of the future benefits. It also must be approved by the commission; it terminates a worker’s rights to disability compensation, but it does not end a worker’s rights to medical benefits.

    Should You Settle a Workers’ Compensation Claim?

    While settlements do have significant benefits in certain situations, they can be complex and have far reaching consequences. Tax liability, financial planning, and other issues can all affect the returns of a settlement. Injured workers and their families should consider their options very carefully. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you understand your rights and make the best decision for your future. It is important to remember that settlements are final. An injured worker cannot go back and undo what has already been done.

    At Pothitakis Law Firm, our experienced legal team has helped many injured workers understand their options and worked to ensure they receive the maximum amount of compensation in the most effective manner. Take a moment to request a free copy of our book, 7 Things You Must Know If You Get Hurt at Work, to learn more about your rights in Iowa.

     

  • What value is placed on each body part for an Iowa workers’ compensation claim?

    In 2015, there were 5,700 amputation injuries to workers across the country. That represents about 15 amputations on the job per day, and the figure may not include those injuries that resulted in the loss of an extremity after the initial trauma.

    An amputation to any extremity can be painful and shocking for an employee, and it can leave them facing new challenges both at home and at work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those who suffer an amputation miss a median 26 days of work, adding to the stresses of the injury. For Iowa workers—like others across the U.S.—the workers’ compensation system offers specific benefits to aid those who lose an extremity or suffer the permanent loss of use of that body part.

    What Is a Scheduled Injury in Iowa?

    The Iowa workers’ compensation system identifies the loss of or permanent injury to an extremity as a scheduled injury. The state has set a schedule that denotes how many weeks of compensation different types of injuries will pay. It is based upon different body parts and covers the loss of:

    • Arm: 250 weeks
    • Leg: 220 weeks
    • Foot: 150 weeks
    • Eye: 140 weeks
    • Hand: 190 weeks
    • Hearing: 50 weeks
    • Hearing in both ears: 175 weeks
    • Disfigurement to face or head: 150 weeks
    • Fingers: between 20 and 35 weeks depending on the finger
    • Thumb: 60 weeks
    • Great toe: 40 weeks
    • Toe: 15 weeks

    Injuries not included on the list of scheduled losses are considered industrial disabilities. It is still possible to obtain compensation for those types of injuries, but they follow a different set of guidelines. An industrial disability would include permanent injuries to the shoulder, knee, back, neck, body as a whole, and more.

    Determining Compensation for a Scheduled Injury

    Scheduled injuries may make an employee eligible to receive both healing period (HP) and permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits. Healing period benefits offer compensation while the employee is recovering from the injury, while PPD benefits are available once the worker has reached maximum medical improvement or is able to return to work. Both of these benefits pay injured employees 80 percent of their spendable weekly earnings, not to exceed a set maximum.

    When considering a scheduled injury, the number of weeks listed in the schedule assumes a complete loss. An amputation would be considered a complete loss; an employee who loses an arm in a machinery accident would be able to obtain the full 250 weeks of compensation. However, an employee who suffers a permanent injury to his arm but retains some function, may not be compensated for as many weeks. A doctor will determine the extent of the loss and compensation will be offered accordingly. If an employee is said to have only 25 percent function, he would be entitled to 75 percent of 250 weeks, which calculates out to 187.5 weeks of benefits.

    Our Experienced Iowa Workers’ Compensation Attorney Can Help

    Scheduled injury benefits can be complex, and there may be some dispute over the level of impairment. It is important to understand how a medical provider is selected and how to dispute rulings you feel are unfair. An experienced attorney can help injured workers learn more about their rights and work with them through the medical review process to ensure that their injury if fairly compensated by:

    • Obtaining medical records
    • Securing expert testimony
    • Helping to seek a second opinion
    • Presenting your case at hearings

    If you or someone you love has suffered an amputation or a permanent injury to one or more of your extremities, you will face many challenges related to your health, personal life, employment, and finances. It is important to obtain the maximum amount of compensation possible to ensure the security of yourself and your family. At Pothitakis Law Firm, our skilled legal team has helped many injured Iowa workers just like you move forward with their lives. Take a moment to request a free copy of our book, 7 Things You Must Know If You Get Hurt at Work, to learn more about how we can help.
     

  • If I have medical restrictions after a job-related injury, is my employer required to find work for me?

    Work injuries are very common across the country, and the state of Iowa offers some of the most generous workers’ compensation benefits in the nation. There are a many different types of benefits available that seek to address a wide variety of injury and work situations, and the state offers higher compensation than many other states.

    There are still many questions, however, when it comes to benefits eligibility and returning to work. One common issue arises when an injured worker is cleared by his doctor to go back to the job, but restrictions are placed on the duties that can be performed. In some cases, these limitations are easily managed, with the employee able to complete essential job functions and go forward as before the injury. In other cases, however, the restrictions may be more inconvenient to work around. What options do employers and employees have in these situations? The answer depends on the type of work and the prognosis for the employee.

    Determining Work Restrictions and Appropriate Duties

    An employee’s fitness to return to work, with or without restrictions, is left to the discretion of the worker’s doctor. Only a physician can set restrictions, and he can do so by filling out a work status report after an appointment. The employee himself cannot determine the limitations of his work; employers are bound only by the report of a doctor.

    Additionally, it is the responsibility of the employee to share the physician’s recommendations with his employer within one business day of the appointment. This allows the employer time to consider the restrictions and find appropriate work for the injured employee.

    Employers Are Required to Comply With Restrictions After an Injury

    If an employee is injured and is limited in his ability to perform job duties by a doctor, Iowa employers are required to comply with the restrictions. If they cannot do so, they must allow the employee to remain out of work and receive weekly temporary total disability benefits.

    There are many modifications that an employer may be able to arrange to meet the new restrictions. Some of the most common modifications employers make to comply with restrictions include:

    • Light duty work
    • Reduced workload
    • Use of adaptive equipment

    In many cases, however, it is just not possible for the injured worker to perform the same job duties as before the accident. Employers may move the employee to a completely new position for the short term, until he is fully recovered and able to return to his previous position.

    For their part, employees must accept any modified or light duty work offered by the employee, as long as it meets the restriction requirements. Refusing to do so could result in the loss of workers’ compensation benefits. Additionally, if the injured worker and the employer disagree on the type of work that is appropriate, it is important to document the situation and seek legal guidance.

    Temporary Partial Disability Benefits Can Help During Limited Work

    In addition to having a right to modified work, an injured employee can reasonably expect to earn income that is similar to that earned before the injury. If this is not possible because of the restrictions, the employee may be able to receive both a paycheck and temporary partial disability benefits. Temporary partial disability benefits pay two-thirds of the difference between the employee’s average gross weekly earnings at the time of the injury and the employee’s actual earnings while temporarily working at the lesser paying, modified job.

    When an Employer Does Not Have to Comply With Work Restrictions

    While an employer must do what he can to promote an employee’s ability to work and return to full duty, he is not obligated to find work for an employee at all times. Restricted work is not intended to address permanent limitations, according to the Iowa Department of Administrative Services. The initial restriction period is mandated at 20 days or when the restrictions are lifted by the treating doctor, whichever is less. Extensions can be granted based most often on the opinion of the treating doctor. After that time, it is possible that the employer will determine that he is unable to offer appropriate work on an ongoing basis.

    The Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act afford additional protections for injured employees whose restrictions become permanent. These cases can be complicated, however, and an experienced attorney can help workers understand their rights and take the most effective steps to protect them.

    While in general an employer must accept the restrictions of an injured employee, every situation is unique, and there are many different types of benefits that can aid injured workers. At Pothitakis Law Firm, our experienced legal team can help you fully understand all your options and pursue the maximum amount of compensation for you and your family. Take a moment to fill out our contact form on this page, and you’ll receive a prompt response from a member of our team who can answer your questions and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

  • What is vocational rehabilitation?

    The goal for most injured workers is a healthy and expedient return to work. The majority of work injuries require only some time off, and employees are able to get back on the job after recovery.

    Unfortunately for some workers, their injuries or illnesses leave them with some lingering limitations, making it difficult or even impossible to resume their previous position. They may be unsure of what to do. Can they perform their old job with modifications? Will they have to seek a new type of employment? Will it be possible to find employment with their new disability? The answers to these questions may depend on a number of factors, including the employer, the type of restrictions, the nature of the job, and much more. To help those disabled workers address these issues and return to work, the state of Iowa offers vocational rehabilitation services.

    Vocational Rehabilitation Assists Workers With Limitations Get to Work

    Vocational rehabilitation is a program that helps workers with physical or mental disabilities both find and maintain employment. The goal of this type of rehabilitation, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, is to help workers:

    • Return to work as quickly as possible.
    • Find a job appropriate for the work restrictions named by their physicians.
    • Obtain income as close as possible to their earnings before the injury or illness.

    The Iowa vocational rehabilitation program is state-federal program, and it is among the most successful in the country. A recent study ranked the state sixth in the nation for workers with disabilities; there are over 180,000 disabled workers in the workforce. This figure represents about 47 percent of all people with disabilities in Iowa.

    Types of Services Provided Through Vocational Rehabilitation

    A vocational rehabilitation program can provide a wide variety of services to support those trying to get back into the workforce. Every case is unique, and the types of services necessary depend on the circumstances of each individual. Common interventions include:

    • Facilitation of communication with former employer to explore a return to previous work
    • Evaluation to determine interests, aptitude, and abilities
    • Assistive technology and devices
    • Résumé development
    • Job training
    • Interview skills and techniques training
    • Job search assistance
    • Education and tuition payments for job training
    • Career counseling
    • Assistance with accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
    • Formation of a return-to-work plan

    Typically, the most desirable option for getting back to work is returning to your former position with the same employer. Vocational rehabilitation can help facilitate this as much as possible through counseling and modifications. If that option fails, rehabilitation will help explore new opportunities.

    Eligibility for Vocational Rehabilitation Services in Iowa

    Injured workers are entitled to vocational rehabilitation as part of their workers’ compensation benefits, as long as they meet certain criteria. In Iowa, an individual must:

    • Be an injured worker receiving compensation payments (or have received a lump sum settlement in some cases).
    • Be unable to return to his job as before due to some lasting disability.
    • Have appropriate return-to-work options in his local area.

    Usually, the worker must also have reached maximum medical improvement as determined by a treating physician before beginning a vocational rehabilitation program, though there are some exceptions.

    Compensation During the Rehabilitation Period

    While a disabled worker is working with vocational rehabilitation services, he is receiving some type of available Iowa workers’ compensation benefits. In addition to those payments, the worker could be entitled to an additional $100 per week for up to 13 weeks. The payments may be extended in some cases. The vocational rehabilitation program itself is typically free of cost to the injured worker, or it can be obtained for a minimal charge.

    If you or someone you love has suffered a work injury that has left you with a lasting disability, you may need assistance getting back to work. At Pothitakis Law Firm, our experienced legal team is here to help you obtain the information, skills, and tools you need to be successful. Take a moment to fill out the contact form on this page to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to learn more.
     

  • How do disputes over claims for workers’ compensation benefits get resolved?

    For employers and insurance companies, workers’ compensation claims can be no different from any other type of expense. These businesses want to save money. To protect their bottom lines, they will often dispute benefit claims in hope of reducing or avoiding payment. They may hope that an injured employee whose claim has been denied will simply seek other types of treatment or drop the claim. Fortunately for Iowa workers, however, there is a process that allows workers to dispute benefit decisions to ensure that all injured employees are able to obtain the care and compensation they deserve.

    Resolving a Dispute Directly With Your Employer

    Many times, workers’ compensation disputes can be resolved with direct and open communication among the employee, the employer, and the insurance company. Iowa employers are required to be clear about the reasons for a decision and present evidence that supports that decision. There are penalties for denying a claim unreasonably, and employers and their insurers have a duty to provide benefits when appropriate. Often, when addressed directly about the situation, employers will recognize their responsibility to provide compensation. If this is not possible, a more formal process can be pursued.

    Taking a Workers’ Compensation Dispute to the State Commission

    The Iowa Division of Workers’ Compensation maintains files on all claims and can help all parties understand their rights and options. When an employee and an employer cannot resolve their disagreement, the office can suggest ways to seek a resolution. A compliance administrator can evaluate the case. While compliance administrators cannot represent the interest of either side, they can and do provide information on state law, the rights of both parties, and state procedures. They can also offer:

    • Mediation services
    • Alternate medical care
    • Health services dispute resolution

    This can be a good place to find information and provide a framework for resolution short of the formal process. Many cases are resolved in this manner and avoid the stress of a formal dispute.

    Pursuing a Formal Contested Case Proceeding in Iowa

    When other resolution methods fail, however, injured employees can file a formal dispute with the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner. This is known as a contested case proceeding. In a contested case proceeding, the commissioner or a commissioner’s deputy will hold a hearing. At that time, both sides will offer their version of events and provide evidence to support their claims. In these situations, the burden of proof is on the injured employee to prove that he is entitled to the benefits sought.

    While an attorney is not required, the office does often suggest seeking representation to ensure that an employee’s rights are fully protected. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help injured workers understand their rights, gather evidence, prepare for the hearing, secure expert testimony, and present a thorough case to the commissioner.

    If a claim is again denied, the injured employee would not have any further recourse in the workers’ compensation system. The case would have to be further pursued through the state court system.

    Take Action Now to Protect Your Iowa Workers’ Compensation Claim

    It is important to report a work injury and file a claim as soon as possible. In Iowa, failure to meet the stated deadlines will result in the denial of your workers’ compensation claim. Many times, claims are denied and benefits lost simply because the injured employee waited too long to file or appeal a claim.

    If you or someone you love has suffered a job-related injury or illness, the experienced workers’ compensation lawyers at Pothitakis Law Firm may be able to help. Our skilled legal team has helped many injured Iowa workers obtain the care and compensation they deserve. Contact us today for a free copy of our book, 7 Things You Must Know If You Get Hurt at Work, to learn more about your rights.

  • Can I still obtain compensation if I don’t realize I’ve suffered a work injury until months after the fact?

    There are two main types of work injuries in Iowa—traumatic and cumulative.

    Traumatic injuries are those that most often come to mind when considering a work injury. A traumatic injury results from a specific event, a one-time accident. When an employee is struck in the leg with a piece of equipment or slips off a slick loading dock, he may experience a traumatic injury.

    A cumulative injury is different, in that these injuries occur by degrees over time. Carpal tunnel syndrome and chronic back pain are very common examples of cumulative injuries. These conditions may begin as just slight or intermittent aches and pains, but over time they develop in to more severe and debilitating problems. With cumulative injuries, it is possible that an employee does not at first even realize he has a work-related injury. It may take weeks, months, or longer to identify the problem and its cause. In many of these cases, it is still possible to successfully pursue a workers’ compensation claim. Here, we explore these injuries and what to do when it has taken time to realize your work injury.

    Timelines for Filing an Iowa Workers’ Compensation Claim

    State law specifies time limits for reporting work injuries. Typically, an injured worker in Iowa has 90 days to report his injury to his employer and two years to file a workers’ compensation claim. This clock begins to tick on the date of the injury.

    With a traumatic injury, the timeline is clear. The date of the accident is day one. However, cumulative injuries or other non-traumatic injuries can be more difficult to understand. State workers’ compensation regulations state that the worker still has to adhere to the 90-day and two-year limitations. However, there is some leeway given as to when the reporting window should begin. In general, an employee should report the injury and file a workers’ compensation claim when he knows or reasonably should have known:

    • The nature of the injury. What exactly is the injury? Often, an employee may not realize he has a clear and diagnosable injury. Once the injury has been identified, it is best to file a report with an employer.
       
    • The seriousness of the injury. Many people dismiss minor aches and pains as signs of aging or fatigue. When it becomes clear that an employee’s physical issues are severe and will negatively impact his ability to work, the injury should be reported.
       
    • The compensability of the injury. Employees often work for many years without having to file a workers’ compensation claim. At first, they may not realize their injuries are related to work. Often, a physician or other medical provider will work with a patient to identify the source of the injury, and it may only be then that the employee realizes the effect of the work conditions on his health.

    These guidelines are meant to promote prompt reporting of injuries while still acknowledging that it is possible that an injury can go undiagnosed or undetected for a period of time. The statute of limitations for filing a workers’ compensation claim will begin when it can be reasonably expected that an employee should realize or know that an injury that was caused by work conditions has occurred.

    How Do I Know What the State Considers as a Reasonable Timeline?

    Commonly, a worker will experience back aches and pain on and off over time. First, he may attribute the pain to a particularly long day. The pain may go away, only to come back again a few days or weeks later. This can continue over a period of weeks or months before he seeks qualified medical care. So, how can a worker know exactly when the reporting window should begin?

    This is often a highly debated questions between the injured employee and the insurer. A number of factors may be examined to determine a reasonable time frame. Some important dates that can help determine when the statute of limitations should begin include:

    • Missed days of work
    • Doctor appointments
    • Therapy sessions

    Employers and Insurance Companies Often Dispute These Claims

    It is very common for employers and their insurance companies to attempt to dispute cumulative injury claims by using the statute of limitations to avoid having to pay. This makes it very important to seek medical care as soon as you experience any type of injury or pain at work. Additionally, it is necessary to tell your doctor about your work conditions and when you experience pain, even if you aren’t sure if it is related work or not. The earlier a work-related job injury is identified, the better.

    However, there are situations in which it is just not possible to know that the injury is a matter for workers’ compensation. At those times and others, an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you understand your rights and prepare a thorough and effective claim. If you or someone you love has suffered a cumulative injury at work but did not recognize the injury right away, you may still be able to obtain compensation. Call the Iowa workers’ compensation attorneys at Pothitakis Law Firm to find out how they can help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

     

  • How does a pre-existing condition affect my workers’ compensation benefits?

    The term pre-existing condition often sets off alarm bells for both patients and insurance companies alike. Those suffering from an illness or injury worry about the type of treatment they will be able to obtain, while it seems insurance companies hope to use the term as a pass to avoid payment. It’s natural, then, that many Iowa workers have concerns about how a pre-existing condition would affect their ability to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. Fortunately, state law seeks to protect the interests and health of employees, and it is very often possible to still obtain benefits despite previous illness or injury. Here, we take a closer look at these conditions and what they mean for injured Iowa employees.

    What Is a Pre-Existing Condition?

    A pre-existing condition is a health problem that a person experiences before being enrolled in insurance coverage. For workers’ compensation purposes, it would be a medical problem that existed before the employee began working for his current employer or that occurred before the accident or injury in question. Some of the more common pre-existing conditions include asthma, arthritis, orthopedic problems, muscle strains or tears, and much more.

    Iowa Workers’ Compensation Covers the Aggravation of an Old Injury

    In Iowa, a pre-existing condition does not automatically exclude an employee from eligibility for benefits, and state courts have repeatedly affirmed this notion over the years. Workers who have a pre-existing that is “aggravated, accelerated, worsened or ‘lighted up’” under circumstances related to their employment are entitled to compensation. One ruling stated that the “mere existence [of a condition] at the time of a subsequent injury is not a defense” for the employer.

    How a pre-existing condition affects a workers’ compensation claim is often described using the words “but for.” If an employee could have continued to perform his job duties and the pre-existing condition would not have been an issue but for an accident or aggravation experienced on the job, the employee likely can pursue benefits.

    For example, consider an employee who injured his knee playing basketball outside of work. He underwent surgery and recovered. He has been working for his employer performing job functions without issue for two years until he falls down a set of wet stairs, re-injuring that same knee. His previous injury would have little to no bearing on his claim. But for the wet stairs, the employee could have continued to work without issue.

    Employers and Insurance Companies Will Likely Dispute These Claims

    Unfortunately, when an employer and insurance company are aware of previous illness or injury, they will likely attempt to minimize their financial obligations by attributing an employee’s pain or disability on the pre-existing condition. In those situations, it often becomes the burden of the employee to demonstrate that the work conditions caused the worsening or re-injury. An experienced Iowa workers’ compensation attorney can help injured employees obtain the benefits to which they are entitled by focusing on:

    • Work conditions. Workers’ compensation claims are based on work-related injuries. When the employee can show that specific work conditions aggravated an injury or caused an accident that caused further problems with an old injury, it supports the claim and diminishes the effects of the pre-existing condition.
       
    • Medical testimony. The testimony of a physician or other medical expert can make a significant impact on a claim. This testimony can establish the difference or change that occurred in the worker’s physical condition because of the accident or injury. This can prove that the worker is entitled to benefits for a new or worsening injury, rather than seeking unfair compensation for an old issue.

    As with any workers’ compensation claim, it is important to seek medical care right away and tell your provider how your injury is related to work. Also, report the injury or illness to your employer as soon as possible. Finally, keep records of all correspondence with your employer and medical provider, as well as a detailed list of missed days of work and medical appointments. Often, employers and insurance companies will also dispute the timeline of the injury to avoid paying benefits. These claims can be confusing, as many times there is not one specific incident that caused the worsening of the old injury, and employers may object to the claim based on the statute of limitations.

    If you or someone you love re-injured or worsened an old injury or illness while at work, it can be possible to obtain workers’ compensation benefits in Iowa. Call the experienced attorneys at the Pothitakis Law Firm to learn more about your rights and how our legal team can help.
     

  • What compensation will I receive If I hurt my neck at work and have to have surgery?

    Workers Compensation after neck injuryIn 2015, over 28,300 workers across the country experienced neck injuries serious enough to warrant a workers’ compensation claim. These injuries can be mild or severe, and a number of different treatment options exist.

    Some Iowa workers find that less invasive care simply can’t relieve neck pain, and they are forced to undergo surgery. In those cases, the Iowa workers’ compensation system can provide payment for medical bills and wage replacement. Here, we take a closer look at neck injuries, treatments, and the effects on employees.

    Why Are Neck Injuries So Prevalent Among Workers?

    The neck comprises many different structures. Vertebrae, muscles, nerves, and ligaments make up the neck, which supports the head and is capable of a wide range of motion. This flexibility and a lack of protecting structures can leave the neck more vulnerable to injury than the rest of the body. Additionally, the neck is the uppermost portion of the spine, and an injury to the neck can have significant effects on the rest of the spinal column.

    As a result, it is true both that it does not always take a great amount of force to create a serious neck injury, and also that high-energy situations (such as motor vehicle accidents) can cause significant damage. There are many work circumstances that can result in neck injuries, missed work time, and the need for medical care.

    Common Neck Injuries for Iowa Employees

    Neck injuries can be caused by a great many factors. Repetitive motions, falls, object strikes, vehicle accidents, and even stress can contribute to neck damage. Some of the most common neck injuries include:

    • Whiplash
    • Nerve compression
    • Muscle strain
    • Arthritis
    • Disk degeneration (spondylosis)
    • Fracture

    The treatment options for these injuries depend on the unique circumstances and symptoms of each individual. Generally, rest and pain medication are the first step. Further treatments can include physical therapy, nerve stimulation, immobilization, and steroid injections. These options are often effective in relieving pain and helping injured workers get back to their normal lives. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and some employees require even more invasive treatment.

    Surgery Is an Option for Significant Neck Injuries

    In some cases, surgery is necessary to effectively address a neck injury. The most common reasons for neck surgery are:

    • To remove damages structures causing nerve irritation.
    • To stabilize the neck vertebrae.
    • To decompress the spinal cord.

    Though neck injuries requiring surgery are rare, they do occur. Depending on the type of procedure that is necessary, the recovery process can be slow. It may take months of rest and rehabilitation before an injured worker is able to return to any type of work. Many injured workers worry about how they will provide for themselves and their families during that time. Fortunately, it is possible to obtain Iowa workers’ compensation benefits.

    Workers’ Compensation Benefits After a Surgery

    The Iowa workers’ compensation system can cover the costs associated with the treatment of an injury related to work. If an employee requires neck surgery to address such an injury, he may be eligible for benefits. These benefits would cover the cost of medical treatment, including medications, surgery, hospital stays, rehabilitation, and more. In addition, there are a number of wage replacement benefits that could be appropriate. These include:

    Healing Period

    In some cases, a neck injury can result in permanent damage. Loss of use of limbs, limited movement, chronic pain, and more can all prevent an employee from ever returning to work in the same capacity as before the injury, if at all. In these cases, an employee may be eligible for:

    • Permanent Partial Disability
    • Permanent Total Disability

    An Iowa Workers’ Compensation Attorney Can Help With a Claim

    All the wage replacements benefits are offered biweekly at a percentage of the injured worker’s spendable earnings. To obtain wage replacement, it is often necessary to undergo a medical exam by a doctor selected by the employer or its insurance carrier. These exams are important in determining both eligibility and amount of compensation. Every situation is unique, and there are many factors that affect the compensation awarded to an injured worker.

    An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help ensure that the medical exam and its findings are as beneficial as possible to the employee. Additionally, it can be necessary to dispute the determination the examiner to the worker’s compensation commission. A knowledgeable lawyer can help navigate the system, locate and present compelling evidence, and make sure the employee’s rights are protected.

    If you or someone you love has suffered a neck injury and subsequent surgery, you may be able to obtain compensation for medical care and wage replacement. Download a copy of our book, 7 Things You Must Know If You Get Hurt at Work, for important information about Iowa workers’ compensation claims and helpful tips to protect your future.