Workers' Compensation and Company Doctors: Can You Trust Them?

  • By On behalf of Channing Dutton of Lawyer, Lawyer, Dutton & Drake, L.L.P.
  • 11 Jan, 2017
If you have sustained an injury due to an incident or chronic exposure at work, you have to act and file a claim. Without the financial support of workers' compensation, you could face a decline in quality of life and...
If you have sustained an injury due to an incident or chronic exposure at work, you have to act and file a claim. Without the financial support of workers' compensation, you could face a decline in quality of life and quality and amount of treatment. However, you must follow correct workers' compensation procedures, and that often includes getting a medical exam from a specific doctor.
The Company Doctor
Something that surprises people when they want to file a workers' compensation claim is that they are often required to see a doctor designated by the insurance company or the employer, even if they have already seen their own doctor. (Note that if you are a federal employee, rather than state or private, you may have the right to use your own doctor; however, you must consult with that lawyer familiar with the Federal Employees' Compensation Act. There have also been a few bills introduced into the Iowa legislature that would allow employees to predesignate a doctor for workers' compensation exams, but these bills have not really gone anywhere yet.)
On the face of it, this sounds relatively mundane, almost like getting a second opinion. But the danger in this is that the insurance/employer-designated doctor is not necessarily going to be on your side. The doctor has been hired to see if the injury really is work-related -- and to see if there's a chance that it's not.
This does not mean that the doctor is an outright enemy, but you must be cautious about how you speak to the doctor. Talk about only the incidents that led to the injury. Don't wander off the conversational track and muse about your yard work at home and how hard it used to be, or all those concerts you attended over the summer. If you're trying to get workers' compensation for a hearing loss that you think was the result of chronic noise exposure at work, and then you talk about going to loud rock concerts, the doctor may brush off your complaints as the result of the concerts, not work.
Improving Your Case
In addition to sticking to the subject, be prompt with your reporting. In Iowa, you have only 90 days to report a work-related injury that's kept you out of work for more than three days. Report any later than that, and you risk having your entire claim denied. As for injuries that kept you out of work for less than three days, speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.
Keep records; you do have the right in Iowa to have a copy of your medical records. If you've been denied copies, think the company doctor is ignoring your complaints, or have other questions about workers' compensation, consider consulting an attorney skilled in compensation law. Having an ally with sound legal knowledge could make all the difference in winning your claim.

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