Recent Changes to Workers' Compensation System: Know Your Rights and Opportunities

If you have been monitoring the activity of the Iowa legislature, you are likely aware that several controversial initiatives have recently been undertaken.  Of particular note to my practice, a bill was passed that, in many ways, will dramatically change our state's workers’ compensation laws. See House File 518.  As expected, Governor Branstad signed the Bill into law on March 30, 2017. 

Critics of the new law complain it will unfairly and dramatically scale back benefits for injured workers and argue its passage will inevitably shift the cost of doing business onto taxpayers through benefit programs such as Medicaid and/or Medicare.  Proponents of the legislation have argued these changes were necessary to curb on-going abuses of the system and contain ever increasing employer costs.  Regardless of your political viewpoint regarding this action, the expected changes to our workers’ compensation system will undoubtedly affect litigation efforts in an immediate and meaningful way.  All business owners and operators, as well as individual employees, should familiarize themselves with the upcoming changes, while also considering potential effects those changes may bring for their operations and employment benefits/status.  That way, all relevant parties can understand how best to conduct themselves as new work injuries arise. 

A large majority of these changes to Iowa Code Chapters 85 and 86 apply to injuries "occurring on or after the effective date” of the Bill, listed as July 1, 2017.  Some of the more significant changes to the system deal with a reduction of benefits for some injuries tied to workers’ pre-existing conditions, limiting the availability of attorney's fees for claimants’ attorneys, limiting the amount of fees that will be assessed against employers who failed to pay timely benefits, and increasing an employer's ability to deny alleged injuries based on the existence of positive alcohol and/or drug tests.  Furthermore, changes were made regarding an employer's ability to obtain credits for previously overpaid indemnity benefits, the extent of an employer’s obligations to pay for a claimant's independent medical examination (IME), as well as limiting the ability for certain claimants to obtain weekly indemnity benefits in circumstances where the payment of benefits for a subsequent work injury would otherwise lead to “double recovery.”

The enactment of this legislation represents an ideal time to speak with an experienced workers' compensation attorney to understand your employer/employee rights and how these changes might affect your company's bottom line. 

If you have any questions regarding Iowa Workers' Compensation laws and/or the recent legislative changes, please contact Benjamin Merrill, or any other BrownWinick attorney in the Workers Compensation Law Practice Group.