That's all they wrote

What you need to know about Baker v. Bridgestone/Firestone & Old Republic Ins.
(Iowa Supreme Court, December 2015)

by Emily Anderson, RSH Legal

Issue in the case: Whether the discovery rule applies to work injuries that arise out of a singular event (acute injuries). 

Summary of facts: Baker suffered a back injury on May 23, 2010. He experienced pain in his low back immediately, and reported the incident to his supervisor. He resumed working. Baker testified that initially, he did not see the injury as having a lasting impact on his ability to perform his work. Baker treated conservatively with the plant doctor on numerous occasions. In January 2011, the plant doctor referred Baker to a pain management specialist, whom Baker treated with through May 2012, at Bridgestone’s expense. Baker testified by the time he began seeing Dr. Hansen, he realized his back injury would affect his job performance and his life in general. No weekly benefits were ever paid. On May 23, 2012, Bridgestone notified Baker it would no longer pay for medical care because the statute of limitations on his workers’ compensation claim had passed. Baker filed two petitions on June 20, 2012 — one alleging an injury date of May 23, 2010, and the other alleging a cumulative trauma. The agency held Baker did not prove a cumulative trauma injury and that the statute of limitations barred his other petition, alleging a May 23, 2010 date. The agency concluded that the discovery rule only applies to cumulative trauma injuries and is categorically inapplicable to workers’ compensation claims arising out of a singular event.

What did the Iowa Supreme Court decide: The discovery rule can apply to work injuries that arise out of a singular event and Baker’s case should be remanded so that the agency can determine whether he met his burden to prove a factual basis for application of the discovery rule.

This decision will: Allow the agency to consider the timeliness of all cases under the discovery rule based on the facts presented and not an arbitrary classification of injuries as cumulative or singular events.

This decision won't: Invite an onslaught of workers’ compensation cases to be filed, that otherwise would not have been due to timeliness concerns.

What's next: Cases where injured workers will rely on the discovery rule to extend the statute of limitations in single incident work injuries are relatively rare. In these cases where the discovery rule is raised, the Baker decision does not mean the rule will automatically extend the statute. The injured worker will still have to prove he first appreciated the “nature, seriousness, and probable compensable character” of his injury within two years of filing his petition. Whether the prongs of the discovery rule are met is still a fact issue that must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis.