Have You Settled Your Case Properly?
The first thing to look at is whether you "settled" your case? There are 3 basic types of settlements:
1. Agreement for settlement;
2. Agreement for settlement with full commutation; and
3. Compromise settlement;
The only type of these settlements you can reopen is an agreement for settlement which is what is commonly called an "open file". The other settlements include a lump-sum payment in exchange for a "closed file" which means your medical care ends, your benefits end, and you give up your right to reopen your case. In order to successfully reopen an agreement for settlement the law requires you to prove one or more of the following items:
(1) a worsening of the claimant's physical condition;
(2) a reduction of the claimant's earning capacity;
(3) a temporary disability developing into a permanent disability;
(4) a critical fact existed but was unknown or could not have been discovered by the exercise of reasonable diligence at the time of the prior settlement or award; or
(5) a scheduled member injury later causes an industrial disability.
One of the most common types of what is called a review-reopening petition is when an injured worker has permanent work restrictions which the employer accommodates and then the employer decides they no longer want to or can accommodate the work restrictions and the worker is fired. Also, sometimes we will see a person who has sustained a foot or knee injury for example which causes them to walk differently (called an altered or antalgic gait) develop back or hip pain. This can also trigger your right to review-reopen the case.
Keep in mind that the worsening of your medical condition will need to be documented by doctors. Often it will involve additional medical examinations and an independent medical examination with a doctor of your choice. Generally, the worsening of your medical condition can be proven through an increase in your impairment rating, additional work restrictions, additional medical care in some cases like surgery, etc. These are not always easy cases for injured workers to win as the judges do not necessarily like to hear the same case on more than one occasion.
At our office, we will not rush you into settling your case on a closed file basis giving up your right to review-reopen your case. There are some cases when this is the best option, but there are many others where we recommend either an agreement for settlement or a trial which gets you to the same place, an open file.
What if I Cashed the Workers' Comp Checks?
Keep in mind that if you have not signed any settlement paperwork but have cashed the checks the insurance company sent you then you have not settled your case and the above probably does not apply to you. However, the statute of limitations which can be as short as 2 years still applies to you so at the very least you should seek the advice of a qualified workers' compensation attorney to see if you may be owed additional compensation.
What if I Did Not Settle, But Had a Trial Instead?
In effect, going to trial and receiving an arbitration decision is the same thing as an agreement for settlement. You can successfully reopen your case if you file the petition for review-reopening within the time deadlines and you meet the legal requirements described above.
Have You Waited Too Long?
The general rule in Iowa is to successfully bring a review-opening petition it must be filed within 3 years of when you last received a payment of workers' compensation indemnity benefits such as TTD, TPD or PPD. Most commonly this would be payment of PPD (permanent partial disability) benefits. This is called the statute of limitations and there are few exceptions to get around these strict time deadlines. If you think you may qualify for review-reopening, then you should immediately contact an Iowa workers' compensation attorney with experience to answer your question.
Also, this question is complicated by the fact that in 2017, the Iowa legislature led by Republicans radically changed our workers' compensation laws by reducing compensation to injured workers, making it harder for them to recover, etc. Most of the new laws went into effect on July 1, 2017, such that your date of injury may play a role in the amount of time you have. The only potential good change made to the new law is that if your case is properly resolved, then there is an argument to be made that you do not have a statute of limitations on your case and if you are terminated later on and do not find new employment making the same or more money than you were making at the time you were injured you may be allowed to reopen your case. However, it will be many years before this issue is decided by Iowa appeals courts so do not take it for granted that this right exists. The best practice is to consult with a qualified Iowa workers' compensation attorney to find out how the new laws may apply to your case.
Our office has been handling workers' compensation cases for injured workers throughout Iowa for more than 20 years. We are here to answer your questions, tell you if you even need an attorney or not and help you with the process if you need an attorney and you decide we are best for you and your case.
If you are considering even calling an attorney, the go-to Google and search for the attorney and/or go to an attorney review page like www.Avvo.com and look-up what the attorneys past clients have to say. In addition to what clients have said about us online, we have real clients telling you about their experience at www.OurClientsTalk.com.
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 full-time offices in Central Iowa but have branches office and represent injured workers throughout Iowa.