Q: I have just authorized my attorney to file a contested case on my behalf, what should I expect?

A: Pursuing Iowa workers' compensation can be a long arduous process that requires you to make substantial commitments in time and money. To be successful, you must make this commitment and be ready to stay the course.

The following is a list of potential steps you and your attorney will have to take just to get to the initial hearing, the order may change, and some may be skipped, or others added, but, usually, most will take place:

  1. Your attorney will prepare an Original Notice and Petition from the information you, your employer and your doctors have provided. This will then be filed with the Iowa Workers Compensation Commissioner's office (DWC, $100.00 filing fee) and served on your Employer and their Insurance Carrier.
  2. They will have 20 days to respond to your filing.
  3. They may also serve various written discovery items on your attorney and directed to you. You will need to help and cooperate with your attorney to respond to them within the 30 days usually allowed.
  4. You will be required to provide copies of all medical information you have regarding yourself within 20 days of the Answer, initially, and then within 10 days of your, or your attorney's, receipt of any new information. You may also be required to attend various medical examinations. You may also be evaluated by vocational and other experts.
  5. If you are unhappy with the care provided to you, you may, after requesting other care and advising why you are dissatisfied, through your attorney, have your attorney make application to the DWC for alternate care.
  6. Your deposition, those of other witnesses, including medical and vocational experts may be taken.
  7. With your authorization, you may be asked to participate in mediation, or enter into informal settlement negotiations between attorneys .
  8. Your experts will be identified as required. Then your employer and their insurer will be required to identify their experts.
  9. Your responses to discovery will be supplemented and brought up to date.
  10. Witness and Exhibit Lists will be prepared and exchanged.
  11. If settlement is not reached, you will proceed to hearing before a Deputy Workers' Compensation Commissioner, and your attorney will offer your exhibits and the testimony of your witnesses. You should consider this your ONLY chance to tell your side, and to offer documents to support your claim.
  12. The Deputy will then prepare and file a proposed decision on your claim, which, if not appealed in the time allowed, will become final, and enforceable in District Court. (top)

Q: And, if any party is not happy with the Deputy's decision, what then?

A: These steps are more specific, your attorney will have to prepare a number of briefs explaining the facts and law from your point of view, and may need to prepare motions and other required items regarding the record in your case:

  1. If you, or any other party, are unhappy with the Deputy's decision, you may request rehearing or appeal to the Commissioner.
  2. I If you, or any other party, are unhappy with the Commissioner's decision, you may appeal to the District Court, which may reach a decision, or send the case back to the Commissioner for further findings.
  3. If you, or any other party, are unhappy with the District Court's decision, you may appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, which will usually refer the case to the Iowa Court of Appeals which may reach a decision, or, also, send the case back to the Commissioner for further findings.
  4. If you, or any other party, are unhappy with the Court of Appeals' decision, you may petition the Iowa Supreme Court for further review. The Supreme Court may simply refuse review, leaving the Court of Appeals decision to stand, or issue a decision of its own, or send your case back to the Commissioner, for further findings, usually with instructions on what is to be considered and why.
  5. After any step where the case has been sent back to the Commissioner, the appeal process can be repeated. (top)

Q: How long does all of this take?

A: IAC 876-4.19 controls the timing up to the hearing, step 11, above. Basically, although, the 12 month from filing to hearing specified sounds like a long time, with all that your and your attorney must do, it may seem to go very quickly. This is particularly true where you are not at maximum medical improvement before your case is placed on file, you and your attorney may wish to seek more time (IAC 876-4.23). Given the statutes of limitation, particularly when your claim has been denied, however, it is often necessary to file before your case is to this point.

After the initial hearing on your case, decisions usually take about 60 days, however, depending on Deputy workloads this may vary greatly.

Completion of the appeal process in your case will usually take at least another year, or two, depending on how far up the case goes and whether there are any remands back to the Commissioner.

Very rarely, cases have taken in excess of ten years to reach final resolution. (top)

If your attorney is not sending you updates, or copies of correspondence, or other documents, or has not told you when to expect the next step, you should consult them. If you have questions, or do not know the current status of the claim, do not wait, go ahead and ask for an update. You have a right to be kept advised as to the status of the case, and your attorney has a corresponding duty to keep you advised.

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