Iowa Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal Based on Statute of Limitations in Cumulative Back Injury Case

Recently the Iowa Court of Appeals in Myers v. R.R. Donnelly, issued its decision elaborating on when the statute of limitations will apply in cumulative injury claims. In this case, the Claimant began working for the employer in 1984 and began developing back pain and seeking medical treatment in 1999. The Claimant testified that he was aware that the work was aggravating his back condition by 2009. On April 2, 2013, the Claimant filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits alleging a cumulative back injury. The employer denied the claim on the basis of a statute of limitations defense.

The Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner determined that the applicable date of injury was February 25, 2009 when Claimant was diagnosed with “disabling mechanical back and bilateral buttock pain”. However, the “manifestation date” for the injury was March 3, 2011 when Claimant’s family physician noted that Claimant stated that his work was intolerable. The Deputy concluded that the Claimant knew the nature, seriousness and probable compensable character of his injury. However as the Claimant’s claim was filed more than two years after the same, the Deputy concluded that the claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. This opinion was affirmed on appeal by the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner.

The decision was ultimately appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Claimant contended that the evidence did not show that he knew by February 1, 2011 that his back condition was serious enough to have a permanent adverse impact on his employment and was likely compensable. The Court of Appeals reiterated that the manifestation date for the date of injury is the date upon which the fact of the injury and the causal relationship of the injury to the Claimant’s employment would’ve have been plainly apparent to a reasonable person. Typically, the statute of limitations period will not begin to run in a cumulative case until the Claimant knows, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known that the seriousness, nature and probable compensable character of her or his injury relates to the employment. The Claimant’s knowledge need not be actual and can be imputed.

What lessons do we learn from this decision? First, remember that the “manifestation date” is the important date in discerning whether a statute of limitations defense arises. Second, recall also that the best evidence is medical evidence or statements directly attributed to a Claimant regarding their thoughts of work causation although circumstantial evidence can support the same.

This legal test was essentially codified via the recent Iowa Reform Bill. If you have questions regarding workers’ compensation cases or the application of the statute of limitations in relation to the same, please don’t hesitate to contact Iowa Workers’ Compensation attorneys, Paul Barta, at PBarta@Baylorevnen.com or Zach Anderson, at ZAnderson@baylorevnen.com or (402) 475-1075.

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