Keep in mind that there are really two-time deadlines. The first deadline is called notice and it is when you report your injury. The other deadline is called the statute of limitations and it is when you must have a petition on file with the Iowa workers' compensation agency.
Notice- Iowa Code Section 85.23 was changed effective July 1, 2017, and currently provides that you have 90 days to report your workers' comp. claim from when you "knew or should have known that the injury was work-related."
In the case of a traumatic injury, it is always the best policy to report your work injury as soon as it happens. Many employers have requirements in their employee handbook requiring 24-hour notice. This does not change the law that you have up to 90 days to report the injury, but the longer you wait to report it, the less likely that the insurance company will admit the claim and pay benefits. For example, if you are at work and while lifting something your back hurts, report it right away by telling your employer what you were doing at work and that you are injured. You should also ask for medical care and to fill out a work injury incident report. Not all employers have reports such as these, but it is always best to put your work injury in writing and keep a copy of what you submitted to your employer.
With injuries that occur over time, what are called cumulative trauma injuries notice is a little different. Often you do not have an exact time and date when the pain started. However, keep in mind that it is always better to report a specific work incident that caused pain. For example, if when you do your job your back hurts then you should report exactly what you are doing at work that makes your back hurt. If you tell your employer "I don't know" this can create problems later on. Also, you may be seeking medical care and treatment on your own before you now the condition is work-related. For example, sometimes your doctor will tell you "I think this is work-related". If they tell you this, then it is time to report your work injury because it is very likely that the 90-day time limit is counting down.
There are a couple of pointers to keep in mind when reporting work injuries:
1. In order to report a work injury, you need to notify your employer that you were doing a work-related activity and when you were injured. Just telling your employer "my back hurts" without telling them it is caused by your work may not be enough notice and your claim may be denied because of it.
2. If you hurt your back on Friday and want to see how things go over the weekend before reporting it, this is a bad idea. Employers are very suspicious of injuries reported after you have not been at work. The chances that your claim will be unjustly denied increase if you report it after a weekend, vacation, etc.
3. Always put something in writing about your work injury and keep a copy for your own records. Sometimes employers will claim we never received an injury report as somehow it get's "lost". Also, remember to write down in detail how your work caused you to be injured.
Statute of Limitations
Iowa Code Section 85.26 is the law dealing with the time limit you have to file a petition with the Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner. The general rule is that you must file a petition with 2 years of your date of injury, not when you provided notice. Failing to properly and timely file a petition will result in the case being dismissed and you receive no compensation. This is true regardless if you are still treating with your doctors, regardless if you are unable to work, etc. The biggest exception to this rule is if you are paid indemnity workers' compensation benefits. These could be either TTD (temporary total disability), TPD (temporary partial disability), and/or PPD (permanent partial) benefits.
We recommend at the very least that you speak with a qualified workers comp attorney within 18 months of the date of your injury to determine if your case qualifies for the exemption. We have had to tell far too many clients that just because they provided medical care, your 2-year statute of limitations is not extended or you may have received disability benefits, but they were not workers' compensation benefits. We will evaluate and help you make this determination at no risk or cost to you.
If is it confirmed that you have been paid workers compensation benefits within 2 years of the date of injury, then your statute of limitations is extended to 3 years from the date of last payment. This does not mean that you should wait that long to file a petition because most injured workers heal from their work injuries within 2 years of their injury. At the present time, it takes around 1 year from the time you file a petition until when you have a hearing before a workers compensation judge. Then it will take an additional 3 to 12 months for the judge to provide his/her decision. That decision can be appealed to the judge's boss, the workers' compensation commissioner which adds an additional 18 to 24 months and sometimes there can even be further appeals.
My point is that the longer you wait to file a petition, the longer you will wait for either a settlement or a trial. We do not rush to file your petition like some attorneys do because we want to do what is best for you, not just your case. Sometimes when you are back to work making the same amount of money this may mean waiting several months or longer before filing a petition to see how things go. What you don't want to have happen is for your case to be rushed to settle and then after your settlement, you lose your job. We will help you through the process and give you the best legal advice for your specific situation. Our promise to you is that if you decide we are the right workers' compensation attorneys for you that we will treat you like family. We have 4 fulltime offices in Central Iowa, but have branches office and represent injured workers throughout the State of Iowa.