Peddicord Attorney’s Successful Argument to Iowa Supreme Court Abrogates Discovery Rule

  • Mar 01, 2024

Legal Update by Attorney Sandra Kromminga

The issues in Tweeten d/b/a Tweeten Farms v. Tweeten were: (1) Does the statutory bar under Iowa Code section 85.35(9) preclude further benefits following a compromise settlement between a claimant and the Second Injury Fund of Iowa (“SIF”); (2) Does the discovery rule toll the statute of limitations following amendments to Iowa Code section 85.26(1); and (3) How do amendments to Iowa Code section 85.39(2) affect reimbursement for independent medical examinations? This case was argued by Attorney Christopher S. Spencer.

The Claimant, Corey Tweeten, worked for his father on the family farm, Tweeten Farms. While Claimant and his father were vacuuming grain out of a bin on July 25, 2017, the Claimant injured his right arm. The Claimant sought treatment on August 14 and was diagnosed with right lateral epicondylitis or ‘tennis elbow.’ The Claimant eventually underwent an MRI in May of 2018 that showed a “significant deltoid insertional tear.” Surgery to repair the deltoid was done on June 18. At a follow-up appointment in October, Dr. Warme opined that Corey had likely overcompensated for the tennis elbow which had caused the deltoid tear. Dr. Warme believed that both injuries were related to the July 2017 grain bin incident.

In January of 2020, the Claimant filed an arbitration petition seeking benefits from Tweeten Farms and Grinnell Mutual for an upper right extremity injury, asserting his injury date was February 1, 2018. The Petition also included a claim against the Second Injury Fund of Iowa, premised on a prior right ankle injury in 2008. The Claimant also sought reimbursement for an independent medical evaluation (“IME”) with Dr. Robin Sassman at hearing. The cost of the IME was $4,650.00.

An arbitration hearing was set for March of 2021. The Second Injury Fund of Iowa filed a notice that they had reached a settlement with the Claimant and would not be at the upcoming hearing pending approval of the settlement. The case proceeded to hearing. In Defendants’ April 13 Post-Hearing Brief, they argued that the Compromise Settlement with the Second Injury Fund of Iowa extinguished Claimant’s claims for benefits under section 85.35(9). This divested the workers’ compensation Commissioner of jurisdiction to award him additional benefits. The settlement was approved in April. The deputy found that the Claimant did not learn of the seriousness of his injury until April 2018, meaning that his January 21, 2020, Petition was not barred by the two-year statute of limitations in section 85.26.

The Iowa Supreme Court held that the Commissioner’s decision in Millbrandt v. R.R. Donnelly recognized that “a claim brought by a claimant against the SIF is distinct from a claim brought by a claimant against an employer and an insurance carrier,” such that the claim against the employer was not “regarding the subject matter of the compromise.” Compromise settlements between an employee and the Second Injury Fund of Iowa will not always bar an employee from seeking benefits from their employer, but the extent of any bar will depend on the subject matter of the compromise. In this instance, the dispute was as to the applicability of the Second Injury Fund Act related to the prior loss in 2008.

As for the applicability of the discovery rule, the Court held that for purposes of section 85.26, the two-year statutory period begins to run when the employee knows or should have known that an injury is work-related, without regard to whether the injury is also serious enough to be compensable. The Claimant knew that he had a right-arm injury that was work-related more than two years before he sought benefits, and his claim is therefore barred as untimely. This holding modifies the prior common law discovery rule that would have tolled the statute of limitations until the injured worker also knew of the seriousness of the claimed injury.

Finally, the Court determined that Claimant was not entitled to reimbursement for Dr. Sassman’s examination under Iowa Code 85.39. The Claimant’s Petition had been untimely, meaning his injury was not compensable, and, as a result, was not entitled to reimbursement.

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