Workers’ Compensation – Traveling for an Independent Medical Evaluations

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Workers’ Compensation – Traveling for an Independent Medical Evaluations

Under the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act, Iowa Code Section 85.39 addresses the rights and issues involving Independent Medical Evaluations (IME’s).  Specifically, the issue discussed here pertains to travel for an evaluation by an IME physician.

Section 85.39 is a statutory provision that allows employers and insurance companies to compel injured workers to see a doctor of their choosing for purposes of conducting an IME. There are many issues involving a Section 85.39 IME examination but this blog focuses on the issue of requiring injured workers to travel outside of the area where they live to see a doctor chosen by the employer/insurance company. Regardless of whether the injured worker lives in the State of Iowa, or resides outside of the State of Iowa, the issue is the same. No injured worker wants to voluntarily travel outside of the area in which they live to see another physician, especially when a comparable doctor is available in the area where the injured worker resides.

The injured worker always has the right to challenge the choice of the IME doctor based upon distance.  In the situation of when a claim has been admitted by the employer/insurer, to challenge the distance of travel, the injured work can file a “Petition for Alternate Medical Care” or “Motion to Quash” with the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner.

If the claim has been denied by the employer/insurer, the employer/insurer can still demand an IME especially if they assert they are “investigating” the claim to determine whether it should be “accepted.”  If an injured worker’s claim has been denied, the employer/insurer loses the right to “direct medical care” which enables the injured worker to seek medical care of his or her choice. It is best however not to ignore an IME request even if the claim has been denied.

An injured worker’s basis to challenge a long distance IME is to show that traveling such a distance is unreasonable. Unfortunately, the law regarding traveling distances is not settled as the case law is mixed.  In one case, an injured worker in Dubuque was not required to travel to Western Iowa for an IME when competent doctors existed at the University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City. In another case, however, an injured worker residing in North Carolina was required to return to Iowa for an IME.

An IME is different than a treating medical provider.  For purposes of treatment, and absent special circumstances, an injured worker is not required to travel more than 50 miles one way to see a treating doctor. In a more recent case, this rule was applied for purposes of quashing an employer’s attempt to require an injured worker to report for “light duty” several hundred miles from the worker’s home. The Iowa Supreme Court in that case cited with approval similar situations preventing a party from being required to travel long distances. From this recent case, there appears to be a trend that the courts will eventual settle the issue of limited travel for IME examinations.

If you have such a situation where you are requested to submit to an IME you can challenge it. Even if your request is not granted, there are no detrimental circumstances to challenging the request by the employer/insurer.

We, at the Beattie law firm, are here to help you from being required to travel long distances for an IME examination.