Court of Appeals of Iowa Elaborates on Whether Intentional Conduct Can Give Rise to a Mental Injury Claim Under the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act

by | Oct 7, 2013

In Smith v. Iowa State University, 36 IER Cases 707 (IA. Ct. App. 2013), the Court of Appeals of Iowa elaborated on when the “exclusive remedy” rule will apply to a claimant’s claim of a mental injury arising out of intentional conduct. In Smith v. Iowa State, a former employee filed a civil action against Iowa State University alleging multiple claims, one of which was that the Claimant suffered severe and/or extreme emotional distress via the intentional conduct of the Defendant. This case dealt with a situation in which the Claimant reported his employer for potential illegal/unethical conduct and the Claimant alleged that he was retaliated against for the same. The Claimant alleged that he suffered severe emotional distress resulting from the employer’s alleged retaliatory conduct.

While the action was filed in state civil court, the Defendant alleged that Claimant was claiming a work-related “mental injury” which was subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commission. Citing I.C.A. §85.20, the Defendant attempted to dismiss the Claimant’s intentional infliction of emotional distress claim from the Civil Court.

The Court of Appeals of Iowa disagreed with the Defendant’s characterization of the proper subject matter jurisdiction. While the court noted that the cause of action asserted by the Claimant was technically one for mental injury, this did not end the inquiry. The Court distinguished the facts before it on the basis that intentional wrongful conduct falls outside of the Iowa workers’ compensation act and therefore subject matter jurisdiction lay with the civil court.

The corollary of this case is that the Iowa workers’ compensation system appears to not have abandoned the general rule that intentional torts are still excluded from the jurisdiction of the workers’ compensation system. Accordingly, situations where a claimant alleges or could be interpreted to allege an injury arising out of intentional conduct, his right of recourse would likely be through a civil action, not workers’ compensation assuming the claimant could prove all necessary elements. For questions related to the jurisdiction of the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commission and what claims can be heard before the same, please contact one of Baylor Evnen’s Iowa workers’ compensation attorneys, Tim Clarke, Caroline Westerhold, or Paul Barta at 402-475-1075.