Laid off Boise Cascade Employees May Have Workers’ Compensation Claims

If you are an employee of Boise Cascade in International Falls who recently lost your job due to the layoffs, you may be surprised to learn that you have work comp claims. We have represented people in similar situations over the years following major layoffs at Blandin Paper Company and LTV Mining, to name a couple of examples.

In our experience,  employer’s generally do not notify employees about potential work comp claims following a layoff. The simple reason for this is that it would cost your employer money if it had to pay ongoing work comp claims. For this reason, many laid off employees simply collect unemployment compensation and then move on to another job without any idea that they may be eligible for work comp benefits.

Under what circumstances might you have a work comp claim following a layoff?  These are a few examples:

1. You suffered a work related injury at some time during your employment before the layoff;

2. The injury was accepted by the work comp insurer and medical or wage loss benefits were paid;

3. At the time of the layoff, you still had some limitations or restrictions as a result of the work injury (even if you were working at full wage at the time of the layoff);

4. Your previous work injury resulted in a permanent impairment under the work comp disability schedules, but the disability was never rated by your physician or paid by the insurance company;

5. You have a gradual or repetitive type injury which you haven’t yet reported but which is related to your work activities up to the time of the layoff;

6. Depending upon how much time has passed since your injury, you may be entitled to vocational rehabilitation assistance or retraining;

What type of benefits might be available? Again, some examples:

1. Partial wage loss benefits if you find a new job which pays you less than you were earning before the layoff;

2. Compensation for a disability rating;

3. Total wage loss benefits if you were off work and receiving work comp benefits at the time of the layoff;

4. Wage loss and vocational rehabilitation benefits if you have what amounts to a “new” injury which has not yet been reported;

What should I do now?

1. If you have an old work comp claim and were represented by an attorney, contact the attorney to find out if you have any claims which remain available to you after the layoff;

2. If you have an old work comp claim but never had an attorney, contact an experienced work comp attorney to see about your options;

3. If you believe that you have suffered a gradual or repetitive type injury as a result of your work activities which you haven’t reported to the employer, contact an experienced work comp attorney immediately. Work comp claims in Minnesota have notice and filing deadlines – if you miss one of these deadlines your claim will be barred forever.

Our Recommendation

If you have an old claim, think that you have a new claim, or just have questions about work comp benefits following a layoff, contact an experienced work comp attorney for consultation. At Bradt Law Offices, there is no charge for an initial consultation over the phone, in your home or at our office. A layoff is a traumatic, life-changing event. While you may be entitled to unemployment benefits in the near term, you may be surprised to find that you have claims for work comp benefits to help you through this transition in your life. Feel free to contact us at any time with your questions – you will always get our honest opinion and we will help you in any way that we can.

We have been helping your friends and neighbors with work injury claims across all of northern Minnesota for 30 years. Let us help you.

Thank you for visiting our blog and/or our website.

Are Work Restrictions Important in a Minnesota Work Comp Case?

The simple answer to this question is: Heck Yes!!

As you progress through a typical work comp claim in Minnesota, you will likely be given work restrictions by your treating physician.  You may be off work completely for some period of time or you might be able to continue working within  restrictions.  At some point, your treating physician might release you back to work with “no restrictions”, thinking that he is doing you a favor.  Unless your injury was very mild and temporary, a release to work with no restrictions can create many problems for you.

What Are Work Restrictions and Why Are They Important?

Following a work injury, it is often necessary for your physician to give you restrictions, in order to allow you to continue working without further injuring yourself.  While this sounds like simple common sense, it can be a confusing issue for someone who’s never been through the work comp system.  Also, many doctors are not familiar with the work comp system or prefer not to get involved, so this can also create problems.

An example of a very simple restriction might be “no lifting more than 50 pounds”.  Maybe you sprained your back or have a sore shoulder but don’t require surgery and just need a little time to heal.  If you have a job that is not too physically demanding, you might be able to continue working with the restriction until you are fully healed.

On the other hand, if your injury is more severe, your physician may need to limit how much you can lift, how many hours a day you can work, or how much bending, twisting and turning you can do.  Other injuries might require restrictions on the use of your arms, hands or knees. You might be limited to no use of ladders, no working at heights, no use of power tools, no exposure to dust or fumes……….. the list of possible work restrictions is almost endless, depending entirely upon the nature and extent of your injury.

Why Are They Important?

Again, the common sense answer is that they are important to prevent you from aggravating your injury or re-injuring yourself as you recover. The goal of the work comp system is to return you to work at your date of injury job without wage loss.  That can’t  happen if your job duties make your injury worse.

However, the other reason why work restrictions are important is that they provide you with the ability to recover wage loss benefits under the work comp system in Minnesota.  Without restrictions related to your work injury, you do not have a claim for wage loss benefits.  The restrictions do not have to be significant, but you need some restrictions related to the work injury or the insurance company will not have to pay you a wage loss benefit.

So, if your physician releases you back to work with no restrictions and you are then laid off or the employer does not have a job for you, you don’t receive wage loss benefits.  I know this sounds crazy and unfair, because you are clearly out of work as the result of a work injury.  However, no restrictions = no wage loss.

How Significant Do the Restrictions Need to Be in Order to Get Wage Loss Benefits?

The restrictions do not have to be significant at all.  For example, if you had a minor low back injury and you are now limited to lifting no more than 75 pounds, this would be a restriction.  Your actual job might never require you to lift anywhere near 75 pounds, so you would be perfectly capable of performing all your job duties within those restrictions.  However, if the job ends or you are laid off for some reason, that 75 pound lifting restriction might allow you to claim wage loss benefits from work comp while you search for another job – or, if you find a job that pays you less than you were earning when you were injured.

What If the Insurance Company’s IME Doctor Says I Have No Restrictions?

This is very common.  The insurance company may send you for an Independent Medical Examination (an IME) in order to get opinions they can use to cut off your benefits.  The report from the IME doctor may say that you are capable of working full time without any restrictions.  The insurance company may then attempt to discontinue your wage loss benefits and refuse to pay for any future vocational rehabilitation or medical treatment.  At that point, it is very important to have a supportive treating physician who will write a letter for you or your lawyer, explaining that you still have some work restrictions which are related to your injury.  The dispute would then be decided by a work comp judge at a hearing.

What If My Employer Won’t Take Me Back to Work Unless I Have No Restrictions?

Unfortunately, some employers have a “no light duty” policy and will not take you back unless you are released to full duty with no restrictions. This obviously can put you in a very difficult situation, particularly if you have a good job with benefits and  the usual monthly financial obligations which most working people have.  Under those circumstances, I have had many clients over the years feel that they were in an impossible situation.  They felt as if they had no alternative but to ask their doctor for a release to work with no restrictions.  Usually, they then returned to work and suffered at their job, often making the underlying injury worse or aggravating their symptoms.

To make matters worse, a work comp judge in Minnesota has no jurisdiction or authority to order an employer to create a light duty job or take you back to work with restrictions.  In that situation, the employer holds all the cards and the employee has few options.

What If I Have Permanent Work Restrictions and My Employer Can’t Take Me Back?

If you have permanent restrictions from a work injury which has been accepted by the work comp insurance company, you may be eligible for a variety of work comp benefits. These would include wage loss benefits, compensation for permanent impairment, vocational rehabilitation services or even vocational retraining.  For more information on the various types of benefits which might be available to you, please see some of our previous blog posts:

-What Is Permanent Total Disability in Minnesota Work Comp?
-Retraining in a Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Case
-How Long Do Work Comp Wage Loss Benefits Last in Minnesota?
-How Much Is a Permanent Partial Disability Rating Worth in a Minnesota Work Comp Claim?

Our Recommendation

If you have any questions or concerns about the issue of work restrictions, we are happy to answer your questions at any time with a completely free, no obligation consultation.  We will meet with you in our office, in your home or on the phone to help you understand the work comp system and your rights.

Always be sure to let your doctor know about any difficulties you are having following an injury.  While it is important to be able to return to work, your doctor should understand what your job duties are and how they might affect your injury and recovery.  Simple, common sense restrictions from your doctor will protect you from re-injury on the job, but will also provide you with protection if you can’t work and need to claim wage loss benefits.

We hope that you have found this information helpful.  Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance or answer any questions for you.  Attorney Steve Bradt has been representing injured workers all across northeastern Minnesota and the Iron Range for nearly 30 years.  If you’ve been injured, we can help.

Thank you for visiting our blog.

Types of Settlements in Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Claims

Each day I take a few minutes to review the statistics for this blog to find out how many people are visiting and what type of search terms they are using to find us.  The overwhelming number of searches that bring people here involve questions regarding settlements.  I have previously written posts entitled:

When Do You Get a Work Comp Settlement in Minnesota, and

How Much Can I Receive for Minnesota Work Comp Settlement

Based upon what I have seen readers searching for, this seemed like a good time to write another post discussing the types of settlements you might receive in a Minnesota work comp claim.  I won’t go into details from the other posts regarding the timing of a settlement and how claims are valued for settlement purposes.  In this post, I will discuss the most common types of settlements that I have seen in my practice, handling work comp claims in northern Minnesota over the past 29 years.

To- Date  Settlement

A “to-date” settlement is just what it suggests.  It represents a settlement of disputed claims only through the date of the settlement agreement.  The dispute might involve medical issues, wage loss benefits, vocational rehabilitation issues or any combination of work comp benefits.  The claims might be disputed because the insurance company has denied primary liability or the dispute might revolve around differing opinions between treating physicians or the insurance company doctor. There are always plenty of things for an insurance company to fight about.

Regardless of the dispute, the parties agree to settle the claim only through the date that the agreement is reached.  The settlement may involve payment of some amount of disputed wage loss benefits or it might simply be an agreement to provide medical care or approve surgery.  A Stipulation for Settlement will be prepared, signed by the parties and submitted to a compensation judge for approval.  Once approved, the disputed issues are settled but no future claims are compromised, limited or surrendered.

In my experience, these types of settlements don’t occur all that often, primarily because the insurance company usually wants to close all claims completely when they make a settlement.  However, under certain circumstances a to-date settlement might be in everyone’s best interest.

Full, Final and Complete  Settlement with Future Medical Claims Left Open

This is probably the most common type of settlement.  Again, the dispute between you and the insurance company might involve one or many issues.  Perhaps the insurance company is attempting to discontinue your wage loss benefits, has denied your claim for vocational retraining or simply wants to pay you a lump sum to close your file and be done with you.  In its most common form, this type of settlement means that, for an agreed-upon lump sum payment, you have closed out, or given up, all future claims for any type of work comp benefits relating to your injury, except medical coverage or treatment.  If you can agree with the insurance company on a dollar amount and the appropriate terms, a Stipulation for Settlement is prepared, signed and submitted to a judge for approval.  The judge can refuse to approve the settlement for a number of reasons, although such refusal is extremely rare, particularly where both parties are represented by experienced attorneys.

It is also important to note that when we say you are closing out all claims, we are only speaking about claims related to the specific work injury you are presently claiming.  You cannot close out future claims related to injuries you haven’t had yet or don’t know about.

Full, Final and Complete  Settlement with Some Future Medical Claims Left Open, Some Closed

In this type of settlement, you would settle your claim on a lump sum basis and only limited future medical coverage would remain open with respect to the claimed injury.  Under the terms of this type of settlement, the parties will negotiate a closeout of certain, specific, future medical coverages.  A common example would be the insurance company’s request for a closeout of future acupuncture or acupressure expenses, health club memberships, massage therapy or other types of passive treatment.  The insurance company does not want to end up paying for this type of treatment after a settlement or, worse, fighting over this treatment with you and your lawyer and having to pay for the treatment and your lawyer’s attorney fees.

You would still be covered by the work comp insurance company for all other future medical treatment, such as doctor appointments, physical therapy, surgery, injections, MRIs, etc.  Basically, anything that is not specifically closed out remains available to you, subject to the work comp laws.  The insurance company can still challenge future medical bills and make you prove that the treatment is reasonable, necessary and related to your work injury.  Leaving future medical coverage “open” doesn’t  necessarily mean the insurance company has to pay every medical bill you ever submit for the rest of your life without challenge.

Some other common future medical benefits which are sometimes closed out are chiropractic expenses, pain clinic programs, psychological or psychiatric coverage.  All of these types of treatment or therapy are ordinarily covered under the work comp law and would be theoretically available to you after a settlement if you don’t specifically agree to close them out.  The insurance company cannot force you to close these future claims out, but often makes this a term of the settlement they are proposing.  In other words, they won’t pay the settlement money unless you agree to these terms.  Whether or not to close out any future medical benefits as part of a settlement is a decision you and your lawyer will have to make based upon all of the facts and circumstances of your particular claim and medical condition.

Full, Final and Complete  Settlement with All Future Medical Claims Closed

This is a rare type of settlement and most often occurs where the insurance company has denied the entire claim right from the beginning.  In other words, the insurance company has denied “primary liability”, and has raised one of many possible defenses to the claim.  They may be claiming that the injury is not covered by work comp, didn’t  happen on the job, is a pre-existing condition or was caused by your intoxication or horseplay.  For whatever reason, the insurer will not accept the claim or pay any benefits voluntarily.  Depending upon the medical or other evidence, the insurance company may still be willing to pay a settlement in order to avoid the risk of trial.  You may be willing to do the same.

Under those circumstances, an agreement might be reached for a lump sum payment which closes out all work comp claims relating to the injury, including future medical.  Like any other settlement, it must be approved by a compensation judge.  However, where there is a denial of primary liability and a possibility that you could end up with nothing if the case went to a trial, a compensation judge is generally going to approve such a settlement.

Structured  Settlements

While not very common, sometimes an insurance company will offer a structured settlement instead of a single lump sum. This more often occurs where the injured worker is a younger person and has a potentially large claim into the future.  The terms  would be the same as one of the settlements listed above, but instead of a single lump sum, the payment might be in the form of a structured settlement or an annuity, paid out over time in regular installments.

Summary

Every case is different and these are just the most common types of work comp settlements that I have negotiated over the years.  There are other, less common types of settlements, which might be negotiated depending on the circumstances of a particular case.  If you have a work injury claim and the insurance company wants to make a settlement, please take the time to contact an experienced attorney before you make a settlement. The insurance company hires attorneys and claims adjusters to protect their interests.  Why wouldn’t you do the same?

If you have any questions about a work comp claim, a settlement offer or any other issues relating to work comp,  please feel to contact me at any time with your questions.  I would be happy to arrange to meet with you for an absolutely free consultation at your convenience. You will always get my honest assessment of your claim and my advice as to whether you need a lawyer.

Thank you for visiting our blog.  At Bradt Law Offices, we have been representing injured workers all across beautiful northern Minnesota and the Iron Range for nearly 30 years.  If you have found this information helpful, please share this site with your friends or neighbors  who might have workers’ compensation questions or problems.

Bradt Law Offices Video

Steve Bradt introduces himself and talks about his northern Minnesota law practice in this video

Most Common Minnesota Work Injuries

According to a recent article in Compact, a publication of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, the number of injury and illness cases in Minnesota’s workplaces continued its long-term downward trend. The most recent occupational injury and illness figures show that during 2010, there were an estimated 76,700 recordable injury and illness cases; about 21,500 cases involved one or more days away from work. The comparable figures for 2009 were 78,100 total cases and 21,000 days-away-from-work cases. There were 70 work-related fatalities in 2010, an increase from 61 fatalities in 2009, but below the annual average of 73 fatalities for the 2005 to 2009 period. These statistics, and many more detailing injury and illness rates and workplace fatalities for 2010, are available in the recently updated Minnesota Workplace Safety Report  on the Department of Labor and Industry website.

Most Common Injuries

The report contains some very interesting information, including confirmation of what we have seen in our practice over the years with respect to the most common injuries. According to the report for 2010, the most commonly injured body parts in workers’ compensation cases were:

1. Back (not including the neck)
2. Multiple parts
3. Knee
4. Shoulder
5. Finger
6. Arm
7. Wrist
8. Ankle
9. Foot/toe
10. Hand/except finger

Report All Injuries

Any work injury, even those that appear to be minor, should be reported immediately. Very often, an injury that appeared to be no big deal when it happened, gradually turns into something more serious and may result in the need for medical care or lost time from work. For more information on The Risks of Not Reporting a Work Injury, see this previous post.

If you have been injured on the job and have some questions about the Minnesota work comp system, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. You can contact us, anytime, with questions about your case or to arrange an absolutely free consultation. It won’t cost you anything and we will always give you our honest assessment about whether you need a lawyer to represent you.  If you have questions about How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Lawyer for a Work Comp Case, you can check out  this previous post.

Remember, you are dealing with an insurance company which handles hundreds or thousands of claims every day. They have experienced claims adjusters and attorneys managing their files. Even if you don’t need a lawyer at the moment, a little information about how the work comp system works can make a big difference for you in your dealings with the insurance company. At Bradt Law Offices, we have been providing assistance to injured workers all across northern Minnesota and the Iron Range for nearly 30 years.

As always, thank you for visiting our blog and please spread the word that we are a  good source for work comp information for workers injured in northern Minnesota and anywhere on the Iron Range.

How Much Can I Receive for a Minnesota Work Comp Settlement?

Although there is no single or simple answer to this question, I have posted it because this is one of the most common search requests I see from people visiting our blog.  Every day, I see search requests which involve some form of the question:  how much is a work comp settlement in Minnesota?

It is perfectly understandable to wonder if you will receive a settlement for your claim and how much it might be.  After all, we all know someone who has settled a work comp claim, or we have heard rumors about how much someone received for an injury claim.  Now that you have been injured and are “in the system”, you probably have the same questions and concerns.

In a previous blog post, I discussed when, or if, you might get a settlement in a Minnesota work comp case.  I explained that a “settlement” is not a guaranteed part of every claim.  (See this previous post, When Do You Get a Work Comp Settlement in Minnesota?)  In today’s  post, I will discuss how a claim is valued for settlement purposes.

As I pointed out in my earlier post, not every case results in a settlement.   In addition, every settlement is different, based upon a variety of factors which will be different in every case.  The only way to put a value on your individual case, is to look at all of the factors which affect how much the insurance company might be willing to pay to settle your claim.  Some of the factors considered are:

Average Weekly Wage and Compensation Rate.  Every claim starts with the basic determination of your average weekly wage on the date of injury. Any wage loss benefits you are paid after that are based upon the average weekly wage.  The higher your average weekly wage, the more value your claim will probably have.  It stands to reason that if the insurance company is paying you wage loss benefits at the maximum rate of $850 per week, your claim has more value than someone who was working part-time at minimum wage and is receiving work comp benefits of $175 per week.

How Many Weeks Have You Been Paid and How Many Do You Have Remaining?  There are limits on the number of weeks that you can receive certain benefits.  Temporary Total Disability (TTD) benefits are limited to 130 weeks (104 weeks for injuries occurring before 10/1/08). Temporary Partial Disability (TPD) benefits are limited to 225 weeks and are not available if more than 450 weeks have elapsed since your date of injury.

Keep in mind that these are not guaranteed weeks of wage loss benefits.  Your benefits might end long before 130 or 225 weeks, for a variety of reasons – these are simply the maximum number of weeks you can receive.  So, if the insurance company has already paid you most of the available weeks of benefits you can receive, they don’t have much exposure in terms of future benefits.  Or, if your weekly wage loss benefits are about to end for some other reason, your claim may have limited value for settlement purposes.

On the other hand, if you have only been paid a few weeks and it appears that you will be eligible for long-term, ongoing wage loss benefits, then your claim would have significantly more value.

How Serious Was Your Injury and What Are Your Restrictions?  If you are permanently unable to return to a high-paying job, your claim has more value.  The insurance company will likely be paying you weekly wage loss benefits for many months.  Or, they may realize that you need vocational retraining, which can also be very expensive.  Your claim would have more value under those circumstances.

On the other hand, if your injury is only temporary and you can return to your previous job at your regular wage, the insurance company may not consider the claim as having long-term financial exposure.  They may simply wait for you to return to work at full wage and just pay future medical expenses related to your injury, without wanting to make any type of settlement.

How Strong or Weak Is Your Claim?  Has your entire claim been denied by the work comp insurance company?  If so, they may be willing to take their chances at a hearing.  If the insurance company wins, they don’t have to pay you anything.

In a medical dispute, the strength or weakness of the medical evidence is a key factor.  If you have a strong, supportive medical report from your doctor, your claim will have more value than if you have weak medical evidence.

What Issues Are Being Disputed?  If the only dispute is over a small medical bill or a few weeks of wage loss benefits, the claim probably won’t have much value.  If the dispute involves Permanent Total Disability (PTD) or retraining, the insurance company is looking at a lot more exposure for future benefits and the claim will have more value, assuming you have a strong claim based upon solid medical and vocational evidence.

How Old Are You, How Disabled Are You and What Are Your Plans for the Future?   If you are a younger person with a serious injury, a high wage  and plans to work for many more years, you might have a claim that could cost the insurance company a lot of money.  Those types of claims, if supported by strong medical evidence, can result in significant settlements.  On the other hand, if you are near retirement age, are only temporarily disabled or have a minor injury, your claim will be valued much differently.

These are only some of the factors that are considered when trying to put a value on a claim if the insurance company wants to make a settlement. There can be other factors that come into play, including previous injuries or pre-existing conditions, credibility issues, your cooperation with vocational rehabilitation, the quality of any job search you might have done and many others.

What We Recommend

If the insurance company proposes a settlement of your work comp claim, you should immediately contact an experienced attorney for advice or representation.  A claims adjuster or defense attorney will have far more experience than you in evaluating the claim.  Obviously, they will try to settle your claim as cheaply as possible.  Even though a settlement must be approved by a work comp judge, the judge does not represent you and cannot give you any advice about whether it is a fair settlement.

If you have any questions about your work injury claim, whether it involves a settlement or anything else, feel free to contact me at Bradt Law Offices anytime, with any questions.  We can talk about your claim on the phone or we can make an appointment to meet – either way it is an absolutely free consultation.  We can meet in my Grand Rapids office or wherever it would be convenient for you.

I  have been representing your friends and neighbors in their work comp claims all across northeastern Minnesota for nearly 30 years.  If you’ve been injured, we can help.

Thank you for visiting our blog.

Bradt Law Offices Case Report: Gillette Injury and Back Surgery Accepted

Type of Case:   Workers’ Compensation

Legal Issue or Dispute:   Denial of claim for a work-related low back injury and surgery

Facts:   Our client worked for a mid-sized employer in northern Minnesota.  Her job involved assembly and the operation of various machines. She was on her feet throughout most of a work shift, standing on a concrete floor.  Her job duties involved a lot of bending, twisting and lifting, although she wasn’t lifting particularly heavy weights.  She developed the gradual onset of low back pain with her work activities and eventually started to have pain going down her leg.

The claim was completely denied by the employer and its workers’ compensation insurer, because she had never had a specific injury to her back while at work.  Our client was forced to undergo surgery and missed time from work.  Fortunately, she had medical insurance to pay for the surgery, but no coverage for wage loss.  We gathered her medical records, reviewed her medical history and filed a claim on her behalf.  Our claim was for a Gillette injury, which means that her daily work activities gradually led to the development of back problems and need for surgery. (These claims are  referred to as Gillette injuries,  in reference to a landmark 1960 Minnesota case, Gillette v. Harold, Inc,  which established that work injuries may occur as a result of   repetitive or cumulative minor trauma brought about by the performance of ordinary job duties.)

Result:   The case was settled at a settlement conference before trial.  The insurance company agreed to accept the claim and pay our client’s lost wages, medical mileage and outstanding medical bills.  The insurance company also agreed to reimburse the health insurance company and to pay all future claims related to her low back condition.  Best of all, our client was able to return to work at her regular job and at full wage within her work restrictions.

Contact Us Anytime with Questions about Your Claim

If your claim has been denied by the workers’ compensation insurance company, you should contact an experienced work comp lawyer right away.  Many people simply walk away from a work comp claim after they receive a denial letter.  The insurance companies know that many people will be intimidated by a denial and also afraid to contact an attorney.  If you walk away without a fight – they win.

Don’t ever be afraid to contact us if you have questions about a claim.  Your free consultation will never cost you anything and we will give you our honest assessment about whether you need a lawyer or whether we can help.

If you decide to hire us,  whether now or at some later time, there are no costs or expenses to you.  We don’t ask for any money up front and we only get paid if we win.  For more information about hiring us and how we get paid, please see this earlier post.

As always, thank you for visiting our blog and please tell your friends that we are a source of good work comp information for workers injured in northern Minnesota or anywhere on the Iron Range.


When Should I Hire a Lawyer for My Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Claim?

A very common question.  In fact, a question that I am asked nearly every time I meet with someone about a work comp claim for the first time.  A very good question but one with no easy answer.  An easier question to answer would be  “when is it a good idea to talk to a lawyer about my work comp claim?”   Talking to a lawyer is not necessarily the same as hiring a lawyer.

We regularly speak with people who simply have questions about a claim or a potential claim.  They are just looking for information about the work comp system and where their claim might be heading.  Unless you’ve been through the system before, a work comp claim can be stressful and confusing.  At Bradt Law Offices, there is never a charge for a phone call or an office consultation to answer those types of questions.  Whether you have a claim that the insurance company is already paying or whether you are considering filing a claim, there are many situations where it’s a good idea to check with an attorney.  These are just a few:

You aren’t sure whether to file an injury report:   You’ve been hurt or have a medical condition that you feel is related to your work or job duties, but you just aren’t sure.  Give us a call.

Your claim has been denied:   The insurance company has denied your claim, for whatever reason. This is one situation where you definitely need to speak with a lawyer, and the sooner the better, because claims have deadlines. Don’t give up your claim without talking to an attorney.

You think the insurance company has calculated your wages wrong:   All wage loss benefits paid to you are based upon your “average weekly wage” on the date of injury.  Calculating the average weekly wage can be complicated and may include overtime and other compensation.   If the insurance company gets this wrong, they may be paying you less than they should.

Your benefits have been discontinued:   Your wage loss benefits have been discontinued but you disagree with the reasons given for the discontinuance.  Definitely give us a call – you only have a short time to object to the discontinuance and request a hearing.

There is a dispute over your work restrictions:   The insurance company may send you to one of their own doctors for an “Independent” Medical Examination (referred to as an IME).  Almost always, that doctor will disagree with your treating doctor about everything from diagnosis to treatment and restrictions.  The insurance company will then frequently use the IME doctor’s report to cut off your wage loss and/or medical benefits.

The insurance company won’t pay a medical bill:  This can occur for many reasons, but often occurs shortly after you receive the IME report.

The insurance company won’t approve a medical procedure:  The insurance company will not agree to authorize surgery, injections, physical therapy, an MRI,  a second opinion, a change of treating doctor, a referral to a specialist, etc.

A QRC is assigned to your case:   A QRC is a Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant, who will provide vocational rehabilitation services to you if you are off work because of your injury.  (For more information about QRC’s,  see this article.)  The choice of QRC is yours,  not the insurance company’s.  Unfortunately, they don’t usually explain this to you and most injured workers have no idea where to find a QRC they can trust.  We have a number of QRC’s that we work with regularly and can strongly recommend.

The insurance company offers you a settlement:  If the insurance company wants to settle your case, make sure to at least consult with an attorney before you do so. An insurance company claims adjuster is far more knowledgeable about workers’ compensation than you are. Any settlement must be approved by a workers’ compensation judge.  (For more information about settlements, read this earlier post)

Or, maybe you just have a few questions…

A workers’ compensation claim can be a confusing, frightening and frustrating ordeal.  Please don’t be afraid to contact us,  anytime,  if we can answer some questions for you.  It won’t cost you anything and we will give you our honest assessment about whether you need a lawyer to represent you.  Remember, you are dealing with an insurance company which handles hundreds or thousands of claims every day.  They have experienced claims adjusters and attorneys managing their files.  Even if you don’t need a lawyer at the moment, a little information about how the work comp system works can make a big difference for you in your dealings with the insurance company.

If you decide to hire us,  whether now or at some later time, there are no costs or expenses to you.   We don’t ask for any money upfront and we only get paid if we win.  For more information about hiring us and how we get paid,  please see this earlier post.

As always, thank you for visiting our blog and please tell your friends that we are a source of good work comp information for workers injured in northern Minnesota and anywhere on the Iron Range.

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When Do You Get a Work Comp Settlement in Minnesota?

We probably all know someone who was hurt on the job,  filed a workers’ compensation claim and eventually received a settlement.  In the 28 years that I have been handling work comp claims,  I have come to learn that most people assume  a “settlement” is a standard, guaranteed and inevitable result in a Minnesota work comp claim.   It isn’t.

What, no settlement?

Let me explain.  In the majority of cases where a lawyer is involved or there are disputes,  there will eventually be a settlement  -  but not always. There is no guarantee or entitlement to a “settlement” in a Minnesota workers’ compensation claim.  Instead,  settlements occur at some point in a claim because the parties mutually agree to settle their disputes in exchange for a certain amount of money.  In that regard, it’s no different than any other type of legal action where the parties agree to compromise and end their dispute.

Many claims  just run their natural course and will end,  without any type of  “settlement”.   For example,  let’s assume that you injured your shoulder at work, had successful arthroscopic surgery and missed 3 months of work.  The work comp insurance company  voluntarily paid your wage loss benefits and  all medical and vocational rehabilitation expenses.  You return to your previous job at your previous wage.  Your surgeon then gives you a 6% Permanent Partial disability (PPD) disability rating and the insurance company pays that.  The claim would end at that point without any additional payment of benefits and no “settlement”.   If you need additional medical care or lose more time from work at some point down the road,  your claim could be reopened and additional benefits paid at that time.

When, how and why do work comp settlements happen?

To understand why a case might end with a settlement,  you’ll need at least a basic understanding of the benefits available in a Minnesota work comp claim.  As I explain to my clients during our first meeting, there are only four basic types of monetary benefits that you might receive under  Minnesota workers’ compensation laws (these are very brief descriptions, you can find more details in some of our other blog posts or here).

Temporary Total Disability benefits (TTD).  These are benefits paid to someone who is off work completely because of a work injury.  (I won’t go into more detail  about TTD benefits for the purposes of this article – this topic will be a separate future post).

Temporary Partial Disability benefits (TPD).  These are partial wage loss benefits paid to someone who is working after an injury, with physical restrictions, but earning less than his or her pre-injury wage.

Permanent Total Disability (TTD).  These are benefits paid to someone who is off work completely because of a work injury and is permanently unemployable.  (See this previous post for details)

Permanent Partial Disability (PPD).   This is compensation paid if you have suffered a permanent impairment which can be rated (as a percentage) under the workers’ compensation disability schedules.

Every case and every injury is different,  so some or all of the available types of benefits might be payable in any given case.  There are limits on the number of weeks you may receive TTD and TPD  benefits and there are also triggering factors and events which  might allow the insurance company to discontinue wage loss benefits.   (That’s also the subject for another post.)

In addition to these monetary benefits,  an injured worker can also be reimbursed for certain travel expenses related to medical treatment or vocational rehabilitation and job search,  including retraining.  There is no payment or compensation for pain and suffering in a Minnesota workers’ compensation claim.  The benefits mentioned above are set by law and strictly limited.  So, with that basic benefit explanation,  here are some situations where settlements frequently occur:

Shortly before a workers’ compensation hearing

In my experience, this is the most common time for a case to settle.   If there is a hearing scheduled before a compensation judge,  it means that there are disputed issues.  The disputes might involve compensation benefits, medical issues, vocational rehabilitation issues or a combination of many issues.  If a judge decides the case, someone will win and someone will lose.  In a work comp case, because the available benefits are clearly defined, the value of most claims can be relatively easy to calculate.  Therefore, both the employee’s attorney and the insurance company attorney will usually have a pretty good idea as to what the “best case” and “worst case” outcomes might be.  Obviously, everyone likes to win and nobody wants to lose.  A compromise settlement at that point often makes sense for both parties.

At a settlement conference or mediation

If there are disputed issues and the case is proceeding toward a hearing, the Office of Administrative Hearings will usually schedule a  settlement conference.  A settlement conference involves the attorneys, the employee and a workers’ compensation settlement judge.  The conference may be held in person or by telephone, depending upon where the parties and attorneys reside.  Participation is voluntary and the settlement judge will assist and encourage the parties to reach a settlement of the disputed claims.  If they are able to do so, the claim (or at least the claim in dispute at that point) is settled.

A mediation is simply a different format for attempting to resolve disputed claims.  The parties will usually select an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to serve as a mediator.  A meeting is held, typically at the mediator’s office, and the parties exchange settlement proposals and offers back and forth through the mediator.  Again, if the parties can agree to reasonable terms, the case is settled.

While an appeal is pending

Sometimes the parties are unable to resolve the disputed claims and the case proceeds to a hearing.  After a compensation judge issues his or her decision, the losing party might file an appeal to the Worker’s Compensation Court of Appeals.  Cases are sometimes settled while the appeal is pending but before a decision is made by the Court of Appeals.

After an injured employee has returned to work

Many cases are settled after the injured worker has completed medical care and treatment and returned to work.  At that point, the parties may be able to project the potential future and ongoing wage loss benefits that might be payable to the employee.  If the employee has returned to work, with physical restrictions, but at a job which pays less than he was earning when injured, the insurance company may have to pay partial wage loss benefits into the future.  In this situation, the insurance company is often interested in paying a lump sum to settle out potential future benefits.

These are only some of the many situations where a settlement might be reached in a workers’ compensation claim.  Every settlement will have its unique terms and conditions, depending upon what the issues are and what claims are in dispute.  There are also many factors which affect the amount and terms  of a settlement, including:

  •  The employee’s average weekly wage on the date of injury
  •  How many weeks of benefits have been paid and how many weeks are potentially remaining?
  •  How strong or weak are the insurance company’s defenses?
  •  How strong or weak is the medical or vocational evidence?
  •  How old is the employee and what are his or her employment plans?
  •  And many other factors and circumstances specific to an individual case

Summary

This post was not intended to discuss how much your claim might be worth or whether you should settle it.  As mentioned above, every case must be evaluated based on its particular facts.  An experienced attorney would need to evaluate the medical evidence, the history of the claim, the nature of any disputed issues, your credibility and a number of other factors before coming up with a fair settlement value.

If you have been offered a settlement of your work comp claim,  I would strongly recommend that you contact an experienced attorney before you ever agree to settle.  A claims adjuster or insurance company attorney is far more knowledgeable than you are about the value of a workers’ compensation claim.  Even though any settlement has to be approved by a work comp judge, you should always consult with an attorney regarding the possible settlement of any  portion of your claim.

If you have questions about a settlement or any other aspect of your northern Minnesota work comp claim,  please feel free to contact me at Bradt Law Offices  with any questions.  I am happy to speak with you anytime about your claim or make an appointment for a free consultation in our Grand Rapids office or wherever it would be convenient for you.

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