In Iowa, there were 4.5 non-fatal work injuries for every 1,000 workers in 2012 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On-the-job injuries can lead to workers’ compensation claims. If an insurance company denies a claim, workers may launch an appeal. Expert testimony can be valuable in these to prove various elements of the case.
What elements are necessary to recover workers’ comp?
Workers’ comp requires establishing certain elements. In order for an injury to qualify as compensable, there must be a link to the work environment:
- the injury was caused by a work condition;
- a work condition aggravated an employee's pre-existing condition; and
- some part of the work environment or job duties led to a degenerative disease.
Workers also will receive medical evaluation to determine the level of impairment they suffered as a result of their injury or medical condition. A medical evaluation will help determine when the worker can return to employment.
Proving these elements may require proper evidence, including testimony from an expert witness, if there’s a dispute with the insurance company.
The Value of Expert Testimony
The Iowa Department of Workers’ Compensation and Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner (IWCC) regulate the workers’ compensation system and may hold arbitration hearings when employees wish to dispute the insurance company's decision on their claim.
An expert witness is someone with expertise in a specialized area who could provide testimony regarding a relevant issue in the worker's claim. There aren't any restrictions in the law that forbid expert witnesses from testifying, but they must be qualified and their testimony must be relevant and useful.
One type of claim where experts might be useful is in claims that the work environment led to a serious injury for the worker. For example, if a worker claims exposure to a chemical caused his cancer, the worker might utilize a chemist or doctor to provide testimony regarding the level of exposure and link to a cancer diagnosis.
Sometimes work injuries cause permanent disabilities. In these cases, an employer-chosen doctor may come up with a disability rating that can affect permanent partial disability benefits. Those who suffer industrial (body as a whole) disabilities may take into account factors like loss of earning capacity, disability, age and more. If the insurance company comes up with an unreasonably low rating, workers may request an independent medical exam (IME). The doctor who performs this IME may testify regarding the worker’s condition.
Process to Introduce Expert Witness Testimony
Workers must submit information about the expert 120 days prior to the hearing. This includes his or her name, the subject matter of the individual’s expertise, the expert’s qualifications, and a summary of the witness’s opinions. This time frame is 60 days before the hearing for rebuttal witnesses.
However, this certification process is not required if the witness is an examining physician or a vocational consultant, as long as all parties involved are aware that the individual provided services. The witness’s reports still must be served prior to the time limits above.
Walker, Billingsley & Bair can answer your questions regarding the use of expert witnesses and how to obtain relevant experts for your case. Contact our offices in Des Moines by calling 888-435-9886 or visit our contact page to set up your free initial consultation.