Tweeten v. Tweeten – The Discovery Rule No Longer Tolls the Statute of Limitations
In a landmark decision, the Iowa Supreme Court has held that the 2017 amendment to Iowa Code section 85.26 abrogates (or does away with) the “discovery rule” for injuries that occur on or after July 1, 2017. This will be an important decision that bars many workers’ compensation claims in the State of Iowa.
In Tweeten d/b/a Tweeten Farms and Grinnell Mutual Ins. Co. v. Tweeten, No. 22-2081, ___ N.W.2d ___ (Iowa Dec. 22, 2023), the Iowa Supreme Court held that all that is required for the 2-year statute of limitations period to begin is that the claimant “knew or should have known that the injury was work-related.” This is a substantial departure from the common law rule, which was that a worker need only file a petition within 2 years of knowing that the injury or condition was serious enough to have a “permanent adverse impact” on his or her employment or employability, meaning “the claimant knew or should have known the ‘nature, seriousness, and probable compensable character’ of the injury.” For injuries after July 1, 2017, however, whether the claimant knew or should have known the injury was also serious and probably compensable is irrelevant. If the claimant had reason to know that the condition (regardless of how minor) was work-related but failed to commence an action within 2 years of gaining that knowledge, the claim will be barred under Iowa Code section 85.26.
It is important to note the possible limitations of this decision. First, the Court made clear that they were not addressing how the changes to section 85.26 apply to cumulative injuries. Logically, it would make sense that the same test would apply to cumulative injuries but the Court found it important enough to expressly limit its holding to only acute/traumatic injuries. Second, the Court was only interpreting section 85.26. The same amendment was also made to section 85.23 (requiring the claimant to notify his or her employer of the injury within 90 days of its occurrence), so again, it would logically follow that the same test should start the clock for the 90-day notice period under section 85.23, but the Court did not mention the notice defense anywhere in its decision.
We wanted you all to be aware of this decision as it will undoubtedly have an impact on your claims handling. As always, please feel free to contact any of our attorneys for questions regarding this or any other workers’ compensation issues.