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Iowa workers’ compensation insurance ensures that employees are compensated for their medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages if they suffer injuries related to their job. Some on-the-job injuries are obviously work related (e.g., a truck driver suffers a neck injury in a collision, or a factory worker cuts his arm on the car body he’s assembling). Others are more difficult to causally link to an employee’s work or are otherwise potentially outside the scope of the workers’ compensation protections. How can you tell whether an injury is compensable under the workers’ comp insurance system?

Iowa Law: A Two-Pronged Test

Iowa Code section 85.3(1) establishes that employers are liable for compensation to employees “for any and all personal injuries sustained by an employee arising out of and in the course of the employment.” Basically, this means that a worker must prove two components to establish a right to compensation by the worker’s comp system:

  1. He or she was engaged in work activities when the injury occurred or developed, and
  2. The nature of those work activities contributed to the injury’s development.

Engaging in Work Activities: Broad Boundaries

The Iowa Supreme Court broadly interprets the statutes to cover a wide range of work-related activities as being within the scope of workers’ compensation coverage—not just the activities that directly constitute the employee’s job duties. Employer-sponsored events like company parties, picnics, training, continuing education, volunteer services projects, and more suffice to create the necessary setting for an employee to claim an injury is work related. Perhaps surprisingly, an employee’s own misconduct (such as horseplay, noncompliance with safety regulations, or negligence) will not necessarily disqualify an injury from coverage under the system.

Business travel—even during periods of time when an employee is not working but is away from home for work-related purposes—can also be covered. Issues of fact, however, can arise when out-of-town travel involves both business and personal components. Time when an employee is not working but is on company premises for the benefit of his or her employer (such as dining at an employee cafeteria) is also generally within the scope of the statute. On the other hand, injuries that occur on an employee’s ordinary commute to and from work and home are not considered to be work related; neither are any injuries sustained while an employee is on an unpaid break and away from the workplace, even if he or she is returning imminently to the worksite.

Injuries Can Be Both Events and Conditions

The Iowa Supreme Court has also broadly interpreted the word “injury” to include not only singular and traumatic events but also the gradual worsening of a condition over time, the development of mental conditions like depression or anxiety, and the aggravation of pre-existing conditions. Medical conditions that develop over the long term, like hearing or other sensory loss, lung problems like asthma or asbestosis, chemical sensitivities, heart attacks, repetitive motion injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, back or neck pain, cancer, and other chronic diseases can be compensable under workers’ compensation protections.

It can sometimes be difficult to determine how much of an individual’s condition is work related, however. When pre-existing conditions are an issue in a new injury claim, it can be a challenge to separate the natural progression of a condition from the effects that a new injury has caused (and determine how much compensation is fair for the new, work-related injury). Distinguishing between purely personal medical conditions and conditions caused in part by work activities is particularly challenging when the injury is a health condition like diabetes, ulcers, heart attack, stroke, or other systemic ailment. It’s vital for a worker seeking compensation to consult a skilled workers’ compensation attorney for advice in pursuing claims for conditions like these.

If you’ve suffered injuries caused in whole or in part by your working conditions, been the victim of an incident that caused injury, or suffer from a chronic condition that may be connected to your employment, you may be entitled to recover workers’ compensation benefits. Contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for help evaluating your case and your potential legal options.

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