“Over 90-days late? You’ll be time-barred.”

by | Nov 8, 2017

The Iowa Court of Appeals recently reviewed a district court’s decision upholding the workers’ compensation commissioner’s determination that an injured employee did not give timely notice of her work-related injury in Callahan v. Horseshoe Casino.

Callahan claimed that she had back problems as a result of her employment, manifesting on October 10, 2011. One of her physicians submitted a “fitness for duty” authorization on October 27, 2011, to the employer stating that Callahan “may have to leave work early if lower back pain gets aggravated.” However, the commissioner determined that Callahan did not give formal notice of the injury being work-related until August 13, 2012.

The commissioner further opined that “it clearly appear[ed] the employer was aware [of the low back condition] for quite some time”, but there was “no credible evidence in the record to support a finding” that the employer had actual knowledge before August 13, 2012. The commissioner stated that Callahan’s testimony regarding giving her employer notice was “extremely vague,” “flimsy”, and “directly contradict[ed] her deposition testimony.” Consequently, the commissioner determined the claim for permanent partial disability was barred by the notice requirement under Iowa Code § 85.23.

As a result of the commissioner’s decision, Callahan filed a petition for judicial review, claiming that the commissioner’s determination was not supported by substantial evidence, misplaced the burden of proof for actual notice, and was wholly unjustifiable. The district court agreed with the commissioner and Callahan appealed.

In its decision, the Court of Appeals iterated that the commissioner’s responsibility is to determine witness credibility, weigh the evidence, and decide the facts at issue, with the reviewing court only determining “whether substantial evidence supports a finding according to those witnesses whom the commissioner believed.” (Internal quotations omitted).

The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision, concluding that the burden of proof regarding the employer’s affirmative defense was appropriately placed on the employer. It also determined that the October 27, 2011, physician note that Callahan “may have to leave for work early” might infer Callahan’s condition as being work-related, but it was not specific and did not directly state that it was work-related. The Court paralleled this case to a previous decision in Johnson v. International Paper Co., 530 N.W.2d 475 (1995), when it determined that a supervisor’s knowledge that an employee’s leg was hurting and wanted to go home did not equate to actual knowledge or notice that the condition was work related. Consequently, the Court determined here that the employer did not have actual notice that Callahan’s back injury was work related until August 2012.

This determination provides us a reminder that the trial court is able to weigh the evidence and credibility of the witnesses. It also reinforces the importance of determining the date an employer receives actual and knowledge that an employee’s condition is work related.

If you have questions regarding workers’ compensation cases, please contact Iowa Workers’ Compensation attorneys, Zach Anderson, at ZAnderson@baylorevnen.com, or Paul Barta, at PBarta@Baylorevnen.com, or (402) 475-1075.