There are some work injuries where one knows immediately the effects are serious and lasting. However, there are other situations in which the injury may well be serious, but the worker may not instantly know it’s disabling.
That’s why it’s important to report each and every injury and to consult with a workers’ compensation attorney, in the event it becomes necessary to file a claim for medical benefits and wage loss.
In the recent case of Baker v. Bridgestone, an employer sought to cut medical benefits to an injured worker for whom it had covered after a back injury. The problem was, he hadn’t formally filed a workers’ compensation claim, and once the two-year statute of limitations for such claims was up, the employer asserted it would no longer cover the worker’s medical benefits. It had never up to that point covered lost wages when he had to miss work for the injury.
While the commission sided with employer in terminating benefits, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed.
According to court records, plaintiff was working at a tire manufacturing plant in Des Moines when he strained his back on-the-job. At the time of the injury, he’d worked there for 16 years. While working as a maintenance mechanic, he often had to work in physically awkward positions to reach the machines. In May 2010, he hurt his back when he bent over to pick up a tool. He inadvertently stepped on a lanyard that was hooked to his chest, and when he stood up, the lanyard under his foot pulled him to the ground and he rolled over. He immediately experienced pain in his back, and reported the injury right away to his supervisor.
He went back to work after reporting the injury, and began seeing the plant physician. The doctor recommended stretches, acetaminophen and ice for discomfort. He was advised to “work at his own pace.”
Although worker knew he was in some pain right after falling, he didn’t see that as being something that would have a long-term impact on his ability to work.
But the pain didn’t go away. He was prescribed physical therapy. X-rays of his back revealed he did have mild degenerative changes, and the doctor prescribed pain medication. He was released for regular duty. But then in January 2011, he was referred to a pain management specialist. It was around this time he realized his back injury was going to affect his future job performance and his life in general.
The company continued paying for his medical treatment, but it didn’t pay him lost wages or compensation benefits when he missed work for surgery or general pain.
In May 2012, the company informed worker it was no longer going to pay for his medical bills because the statute of limitations had expired on any workers’ compensation claim.
Plaintiff continued seeking treatment, but that was paid for through his own health insurance. The following month, he filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. He alleged the 2010 injury but also a cumulative injury that occurred the same month he filed.
Deputy commissioner ruled the two-year statute of limitations barred the claim because worker should have known his injuries were serious long before he filed the claim, since he had sought medical treatment and the doctor had imposed “work restrictions” by telling him to work at his own pace.
The district court reversed, finding the discovery rule could apply to claims stemming from a single event.
The company appealed, but the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed, finding the worker did not know his injuries were serious until some time after he was first hurt. Thus, his timeline to file a claim was extended.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.
Baker v. Bridgestone, Dec. 18, 2015, Iowa Supreme Court
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King v. CompPartners – Workers Must be Weaned Gradually From Powerful Drugs, Jan. 24, 2016, Georgia Work Injury Lawyer Blog