Refresher on “Affirmative Defenses” for Iowa Workers’ Compensation Claims

by | Oct 22, 2015

Because workers’ compensation is its own area of law, it carries with it a different set of defenses than one would find in tort claims. For example, common tort defenses include comparative negligence and/or assumption of the risk. But because a workers’ negligent or risky conduct are not factors which may negate the compensability of a comp claim, such affirmative defenses do not exist within the realm of workers’ compensation. Instead, the most common affirmative defenses applicable to Iowa workers’ compensation cases include:

  1. Statute of Limitations

If no weekly benefits have been paid to the injured worker, then the injured worker has two years from the date of injury to file a claim. However, if weekly benefits have been paid, then the injured worker has three years from the date of the last payment to file a claim.

If medical benefits have ever been paid, medical benefits for related conditions will remain available and are not subject to a statute of limitations defense.

  1. Notice

Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, an employee is required to notify her employer of an injury. Accordingly, unless the employer or the employer’s representative receives actual knowledge of the injury within 90 days from the date of injury, no compensation is allowed—though it should be noted that time for notice may be tolled if the injury was not reasonably discoverable (to the employee).

  1. Willful Injury

No compensation is allowed for an injury caused by the employee’s willful intent to injure himself or another. The evidentiary burden is on the employer to prove that the employee’s injury was willful.

  1. Intoxication

No compensation is allowed for an injury in which an employee’s intoxication was a substantial causative factor. This defense typically requires medical testimony that the accident would not have occurred absent the employee’s intoxication. Further, the burden is on the employer to establish the link between intoxication and causation of the employee’s injuries.

  1. Violation of Safety Rule or Statute

Violation of an employer’s rule may remove the employee from the course and scope of employment. The test applied by the courts when assessing this defense is: (1) was the regulation calculated to limit the scope of employment; or (2) only to govern the manner of performing a more comprehensive task? If the court determines it to be the former, the defense is likely to succeed.

  1. Aggravation

When it appears that the employee’s alleged injury is an aggravation of a previous injury, defenses which may be asserted include: (1) evidence of a prior independent disability; (2) that the work-related event was not a substantial contributing factor; and (3) that the aggravation is immaterial and/or temporary.

For any questions regarding affirmative defenses under Iowa Workers’ Compensation law, please don’t hesitate to contact Iowa Workers’ Compensation Attorney Paul Barta at or Michael Sands at