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.