The Importance of Strong, Clear Laws for the Court to Interpret

May 10, 2019 | Law and business Nicole Crain, Senior Vice President, Public Policy, ABI,

The legislative session has just concluded, but the work of ABI never stops. I find it fitting the topic of this month’s issue is the business voice in the legal process. As a public policy advocate for ABI, my job is to make sure your voice is heard at the State Capitol. The legal process and the political process are extremely interrelated. However, there is a critical separation. The Legislature’s role is to pass the laws, and the court’s role is to interpret the laws as they have been written. In the last decade, there have been many instances where the courts have established standards that didn’t exist in the law prior to a ruling, or where a law wasn’t clear and the courts have all but encouraged the Legislature to act.

As I write this column, I think back to a Supreme Court case late last fall that related to a fall that occurred at a workplace but wasn’t caused by work. In the Bluml vs. Dee Jay’s Inc. d/b/a Long John Silver’s and Commerce & Industry Insurance, Justice Mansfield wrote in his opinion that it was happenstance the individual was at work. However, the court ruled for the Claimant and remanded the case back to the workers’ compensation commissioner to look at an increased risk standard for idiopathic or unexplained falls in the workplace. In the dissent, Justice Waterman talked about the “arising out of and in the course of employment” standard that exists in workers’ compensation and how this case did not meet that standard. In fact, Justice Waterman used the words “eviscerate,” which from ABI’s perspective was concerning to read. This isn’t the only instance of a ruling where ABI disagreed with the Court’s interpretation of workers’ compensation law; the workers’ compensation reform bill of 2017 addressed five Iowa Supreme Court cases.

As we have seen many times, if the laws aren’t clear, and if there isn’t case law to help guide legal decisions, it leaves the door open to exposure for businesses and costly legal decisions. When ABI is proposing new laws for the Legislature to consider, we rely on our attorney members to help draft and review language. Whether in public policy or in business, it is important that we have strong, clear laws for the court to interpret.