Iowa Supreme Court asked: Is it possible to say the road not taken would have led to better place?

By: Rox Laird on November 8th, 2017

A southeast Iowa woman is asking the Iowa Supreme Court to overturn its 2010 decision that she says imposes an impossible burden on workers’ compensation claimants:  proving that the outcome of the medical procedure they chose is better than a hypothetical alternative.

Her employer says the court’s precedent is a correct reading of state law and strikes the right balance between the interests of employees and employers.

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments on the question Tuesday in Kelly Brewer-Strong v. HNI Corp.

Brewer-Strong appealed a Muscatine County District Court ruling upholding a decision of a deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner that she was not eligible for benefits during the nine-week period while she was recovering from surgery for a work-related injury.

She argues she is eligible for “healing-period benefits” under state law because the company admitted the injury was work-related.

Her employer, HNI Corp., disagrees, pointing to an Iowa Code provision that says employers are not liable for medical benefits when an employee uses a medical provider not authorized by the employer to treat a work-related injury. Brewer-Strong thus forfeited the healing-period benefit by choosing to have surgery performed by a doctor of her choice rather than following the medical advice of the doctor chosen by HNI.

The Iowa Supreme Court, however, addressed that provision in Bell Bros. Heating & Air Conditioning v. Gwinn (2010), and said employees in some cases may be eligible for healing-period benefits following treatment from an unauthorized medical provider where the procedure was “reasonable and beneficial.” The Court added that such unauthorized care is beneficial if it results in “more favorable outcomes than would likely have been achieved by the care authorized by the employer.”

That puts an impossible burden on claimants such as Brewer-Strong, her legal counsel argues in a brief submitted to the Court, because she must speculate about the outcome of a chosen medical procedure over a hypothetical one she did not choose.

HNI dismissed that argument in its brief, pointing to at least 10 recent Iowa cases where injured employees met the burden of proof under the Gwinn test.

Two amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs submitted to the Court joined the argument from opposite perspectives:

The Iowa Association for Justice Workers’ Compensation Core Group agreed with Brewer-Strong’s call for the Court to abandon the Gwinn burden of proof. “It is simply an impossible burden to require an injured worker to show that the outcome of a course of care that actually took place produced a more favorable outcome than a course of care that never occurred,” the brief argues.

In response, an amicus brief filed by the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI), the Iowa Insurance Institute, the Iowa Defense Counsel Association and the Iowa Self-Insurers Association, urges the court to stand by its Gwinn decision. [Disclosure: The ABI brief was written by former Nyemaster Goode attorney Ryan Koopmans while he was with the firm.]

The “reasonable and beneficial” test “isn’t just some procedural rule that this Court created to fill in the gaps of a vague statute,” the brief argues, “it is dictated by the terms of Iowa Code section 85.27(4), which states that the employer ‘has the right to choose the care’ of an employee who is injured on the job.”

So it seems clear that, in addition to the parties, the outcome of this case will be closely watched by advocates for employers and employees alike.

Go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read the parties brief. The oral argument is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, November 14.


Amici will get oral-argument time in Iowa Supreme Court voting case

By: Administrator on February 18th, 2016

By Ryan Koopmans

Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court told the seven amici in Griffin v. Pate (the case that will decide what types of crimes are “infamous” under the Iowa Constitution) that they could participate in oral argument if the parties were willing to give up some of their time.  (Background here.)

The Iowa Supreme Court has now issued an order announcing that the parties–Kelli Jo Griffin (represented by the ACLU) and Secretary of State Paul Pate (represented by the Iowa Attorney General’s office)–have indeed agreed to share a few of their minutes with some of the amici who support their cause.  Griffin is giving five of her thirty minutes to Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald (who is represented by Des Moines attorney Gary Dickey) and five  minutes to the NAACP. Secretary Pate is giving ten of his thirty minutes to the Iowa County Attorneys Association, which is represented by Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren.  

This will be the first time in recent memory (and maybe ever*) that an amicus has participated in oral argument at the Iowa Supreme Court. 

*UPDATE: A reader informs me that Master Builders of Iowa participated in oral argument as an amicus in the 2002 case of Garling Construction v. City of Shellsburg.


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