Workers’ Compensation Healing Periods
Healing periods are no longer limited to one-per-injury. The Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling in Waldinger Corp. v. Mettler earlier this summer expanded the possibility of healing periods and an employer’s responsibility of compensation during such time. 817 N.W.2d 1 (Iowa 2012). The case found Mettler able to recover healing period benefits under Iowa Code §85.34(1) after reaching maximum medical improvement (MMI) and returning to substantially similar work following a work-related injury.
According to Iowa Code §85.34(1) (2011):
“the employer shall pay to the employee compensation for a healing period…beginning on the first day of disability after injury, and until the employee has returned to work or it is medically indicated that significant improvement from the injury is not anticipated or until the employee is medically capable of returning to employment substantially similar to the employment in which the employee was engaged at the time of the injury.”
The Court found the legislature did not intend to limit healing periods to one-per-injury by using the wording “a” in the statement of “a healing period”. Thus, once a claimant achieves a MMI, another new healing period can still begin under 85.34(1).
In making this determination, the Iowa Supreme Court overruled its decision in Ellingson v. Fleetguard, Inc., finding it erroneous. 599 N.W.2d 440 (Iowa 1999). Ellingson sought healing period benefits for periods of an inability to work “based on a ‘retrogression’ of her disability” after reaching MMI. The Ellingson Court said that once the Commissioner or a reviewing court established in a decision that no further significant improvement was anticipated, “all temporary disability benefits from a single injury [we]re finally terminated to be followed by any permanent partial disability benefit payments that [we]re established by the Commissioner’s order.” Ellingson, 599 N.W.2d at 447 (citing Pitzer v. Rowley Interstate, 507 N.W.2d 389, 390-92 (Iowa 1993)). The Mettler Court found its Ellingson analysis flawed in that it (1) “diminished the promise of continuing medical care for work-related injuries” and (2) “ignored that a single injury can cause a new period of temporary disability even after a claimant has achieved MMI.”