Bradt Law Offices Case Report: Repetitive Thumb Injury and Surgery

Type of Case:   Workers’ Compensation

Legal Issue or Dispute:  Denial of claim for a repetitive thumb injury requiring surgery

Facts:   Our client worked for a large healthcare provider in northern Minnesota.  His job duties over many years involved repetitive work with his hands and thumbs. He developed a condition which required a significant hand surgery and the workers’ compensation insurer denied the claim.  They sent our client to an orthopedic surgeon for an independent medical exam (often referred to as an IME), who gave the opinion that our client’s problems were hereditary and unrelated to his work activities.  The case was scheduled for trial before a workers’ compensation judge in Duluth.

Result:   We obtained a medical report from the treating surgeon which stated that our client’s work activities were a substantial contributing cause of the development of his problems. Shortly before trial, we took the deposition of the insurance company’s doctor.  In his deposition under oath, he was forced to admit that  (1) there was no documented medical basis for his opinions regarding the hereditary factors he relied on for his opinions,  (2) there were no medical studies to support his opinions, and  (3) he had no special training or knowledge of genetics.

Less than one week before the scheduled trial, the insurance company accepted the claim in full, agreed to pay for our client’s surgery and paid him wage loss benefits while he was off work.  The insurance company was also required to pay our attorney fees for obtaining the surgical approval and wage loss benefits.

Hiring a Local, Northern Minnesota Lawyer for Your Workers’ Compensation Claim

It seems that everywhere you look these days, whether in the Yellow Pages, on the television and especially, the Internet, you will find advertisements for Twin Cities law firms seeking clients way up here in northern Minnesota.  Let me begin by saying that the point of this  post is not to attack or criticize Twin Cities law firms.  I went to law school in Minneapolis.  I have a lot of friends who are lawyers in the Twin Cities area.  The majority of the lawyers I see advertising up in our neck of the woods are experienced and top-notch lawyers.

My point is to ask why a person in Grand Rapids, Hibbing, Virginia or Ely,  for example, would decide to hire a lawyer 200 miles away to handle a local workers’ compensation claim.  If you have been hurt on the job and are looking for a lawyer to represent you,  I could not agree more that you are making a very important choice.  In fact, there are definitely certain things you should look for when you hire a work comp lawyer:

Experience with All Types of Work Comp Claims

Experience with a Variety of Employers and Insurance Companies

Experience in the Courtroom

Knowledge of the Local Economy and Labor Market

Availability and Convenience

With that in mind, let me make the case for contacting Bradt Law Offices when you have questions or need a lawyer to fight  for you in a workers’ compensation claim.

Let’s start with Experience with all types of work comp claims.   If you read my biography, either here or on our webpage,  you’ll know that I have been representing work comp clients for over 28 years.  I started in 1983 and the first cases I ever handled were work comp.  I’ve been a “work comp lawyer’ ever since.  In fact, I still have a file open for a guy who hired me in 1984.  He has been receiving permanent total disability benefits for many years now, but medical disputes with the insurance company arise now and then and his file remains open.  I’ve known this gentleman since before my now-grown children were even born – and we both have a lot less hair than we did in 1984  🙂

If there is a type of injury that a person can have,  I have probably handled it for someone.  Over the years, our office has handled back and neck injuries, injuries to just about every joint in the body, brain injuries, quadriplegic injuries, heart attacks, carpal tunnel, lead poisoning, fibromyalgia, repetitive use injuries, chronic pain issues, hearing loss, crush injuries, loss of vision……… the list goes on and on.  When necessary, we refer our clients to the same medical experts as any other lawyer, whether those experts are in your hometown,  in Duluth, the Twin Cities or Rochester.

Experience with a variety of employers and insurance companies.   Work injuries happen every day of the week to people just like you.  Over the years I have brought claims against the mining companies, the big-box retail stores, paper mills, construction companies, school districts, cities, counties and the State of Minnesota, to name a few of the big employers we have dealt with.  On the other hand, we also have claims against gas stations, convenience stores, cleaning companies, nursing homes and any other type of employer imaginable.  People don’t choose to get hurt and it makes no difference where they are working.  The workers’ compensation system is set up to help you when you’ve been injured, no matter how big or small your employer might be.

Whether you are dealing with State Fund Mutual, Liberty Mutual, Berkeley, General Casualty or a long list of other insurance companies, we’ve dealt with them all over the years.  The same laws apply in every case no matter how big or small the employer or insurance company might be.

Experience in the courtroom.   For over 28 years,  I have been taking  my clients’ cases to trial in front of workers’ compensation judges.  The majority of those trials have been in Duluth, although 20 years ago we  sometimes had to travel to Minneapolis for hearings.  If the case can’t be settled fairly, or if a client wants his or her day in court, we’ll take the case to trial.  Of course, my clients will always get the benefit of my advice and my evaluation of their claim, but ultimately the decision to take a case to trial is up to the client.  I have appeared and argued cases before the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals, the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Knowledge of the local economy and labor market.   I was born and raised on the Iron Range, graduating from Eveleth High School and attending UMD before going to law school at the University of Minnesota.  My practice has always been in northern Minnesota, mostly with an office in Grand Rapids, although I spent 7 years in Duluth as a partner with Cuzzo, Bradt and Envall from 1999 until 2006.  Our current office is in Grand Rapids but my clients have always been spread across northern Minnesota – from Ely to Bemidji,  International Falls to Duluth and everywhere in between.  I spend most summer weekends at our cabin on Lake Vermilion.

For job search or retraining issues,  we have used QRC’s with offices in Duluth, Cook, Grand Rapids and Brainerd, depending upon where my clients live and what issues might be in dispute.  As a native Iron Ranger,  if you call me with a question about your work comp claim,  I can promise you I won’t have to ask  “Where is Buhl?  Is that near Ely?”   Or even worse,  “Where is Ely?”.

Availability and convenience.   I truly believe that this is one of the most important factors to consider, all other things being equal.  If you can find an experienced and compassionate work comp lawyer in your own backyard, why would you drive 200 miles to hire someone else?  Why would anyone want a lawyer that far away?

Here’s what we can offer you at Bradt Law Offices:

I’ll travel to meet with you.   If you are unable to travel, are in the hospital or can’t make it to our office in Grand Rapids, I’ll meet you where it’s convenient for you.

I return all of my phone calls.   It might take me a few hours, sometimes even a day or two depending upon my schedule, but I will  always  call you back.

If you need to meet with me, I am always available for appointments.   If I’m busy, we’ll squeeze you in.

Hard work,  years of experience and honest answers, all the time.

Hiring a lawyer is an important decision.  Hiring a good lawyer is a smart decision.  If you have a workers’ compensation claim in northern Minnesota, please consider calling  Bradt Law Offices  to help you before you make that long drive to the Twin Cities.

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Choosing a QRC for Your Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Case

Let’s say you have been hurt on the job, are receiving work comp benefits, treating with a doctor and hoping to get back to work as soon as possible.  However, you may have work restrictions which prevent you from returning to your regular job, at least for the time being.

You receive a phone call from a woman (or man) who tells you that she has been assigned to serve as your “QRC”.   QR what?   Immediately, a few questions come to mind, such as:

   What the heck is a QRC?

   Who assigned this QRC to me and why?

   What will a QRC do for me?

   Do I have any choice in selecting a QRC?

Let’s take the questions one at a time.

What the heck is a QRC?   A QRC is a Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant, approved by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. A QRC provides vocational rehabilitation services to eligible injured workers within the framework of Minnesota’s workers’ compensation system.  In a nutshell, the job of a QRC is to help you get back to work at your previous job and previous wage as fast as possible.  Unfortunately, because of significant physical restrictions, economic factors or other issues, that’s not always possible.  If you are unable to return to your previous job, the QRC will assist you in finding another job, within whatever physical limitations you might have, at a wage as close as possible to what you were earning before you were injured.

Who assigned this QRC to me and why?   If you don’t have an attorney representing you, the QRC was probably assigned to you by the claims adjuster handling your file for the workers’ compensation insurance company.  Most work comp insurance companies have a relatively “short list” of QRC’s that they regularly use.  The QRC chosen for your particular case may be assigned based upon where you live and where the QRC has an office.  Or, the insurance company might choose a QRC who has experience with particular types of injuries or disabilities.  More likely, the insurance company will simply choose a QRC with whom they are comfortable and who they know may get your rehabilitation file closed quickly and cheaply (that would be the cynical, employee’s attorney viewpoint).

What will a QRC do for me?   A QRC might provide a variety of services.  In a simple case, the QRC might accompany you to a doctor’s appointment to get clarification of your work restrictions.  The QRC might then communicate with your employer to help you get back to work as soon as possible within those restrictions.  In other cases, where it isn’t possible to return to your job,  the QRC might assist you with a job search to help you find new employment.  Less often, it may even be necessary for the QRC to explore and assist you with retraining options in order to get you back to full employment.  Each case is different and you can find more information about QRC’s at the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry website here.

Do I have any choice in selecting a QRC?   Actually, you do.  If the insurance company assigns you a QRC, you  have 60 days to either accept or reject that QRC.  At any time within those 60 days you can simply advise the insurance company that you would prefer to select your own QRC. You don’t need to give a reason and the insurance company cannot refuse your request.  If you have an attorney representing you before a QRC is assigned or before the initial 60 days have passed, chances are that your attorney will have a number of QRC’s from which to choose.

The problem arises where you don’t have an attorney and the insurance company assigns you a QRC.  Unless you’ve been through the workers’ compensation system with a previous claim and a QRC  (or unless one of your relatives is a QRC),  you probably won’t have any idea where to even find another QRC, let alone one that you would trust with your case.

Now we’re not suggesting that a QRC assigned by the insurance company is a bad person or a bad QRC.  Not at all.  However, a workers’ compensation case is a very important matter in your life.  We simply prefer that our client’s,  not the insurance company,  select the people who provide care and services in their claims, whether a treating doctor, chiropractor, surgeon…. or QRC.

What We Suggest

The minute that the insurance company assigns you a QRC, it would be a good idea to contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for a consultation about your claim. You don’t necessarily need to hire an attorney at that point, but many lawyers can give you the names of some QRC’s that we regularly use and would recommend.  You may end up hiring a lawyer eventually, but it can be very helpful to have a your choice of a good, trusted QRC on board from the beginning of your claim.

If you have any questions about QRC’s, vocational rehabilitation or any other aspect of your claim, feel free to give us a call anytime for a free consultation at Bradt Law Offices.

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Can I Get Fired for Filing a Minnesota Work Comp Claim?

I have spent the past 28 years proudly representing people who have been hurt on the job.  A large part of my law practice involves just talking to people.  On the phone.  In my office.  At the grocery store.  In a boat while fishing – you name it.  Some of these people are clients, some are friends or acquaintances and many of them are people I am meeting or speaking with for the first time because they know I’m a lawyer and they have a legal question.

Why am I telling you this?  Because  “can I get fired for filing a work comp claim”  seems to be a question on a lot of people’s minds these days.  I am hearing that question, or others like it, more frequently than I can ever remember.

Why is that?  Well, this is only an educated guess, but I think the scary economy of the past few years has people afraid for their jobs and worried about their financial security (no kidding).  I sense that there are a lot of people “working hurt’ right now – people who are afraid to file a work injury claim or “rock the boat’ in any way that might put their job in jeopardy.

So answer the question already, will ya?  Can  I get fired for filing a work comp claim?

OK, OK.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to that question. Legally, at least in Minnesota, you can’t be fired for reporting or making a work injury claim.  There is a Minnesota law which prohibits your employer from retaliating against you for filing a workers’ compensation claim.  In addition, your employer may not discharge, threaten to discharge or intentionally obstruct you from seeking workers’ compensation benefits.

Just because its against the law, however, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. Of course it does. Laws are broken everyday. That’s why we have courts and millions of lawyers.

How can you protect yourself?

If you get hurt at work, the workers’ compensation system is there to help you with wage loss benefits, medical coverage and vocational rehabilitation assistance. But you can’t get the benefits if you don’t make the claim.

Here are some suggestions:

Make sure you have promptly reported the injury to your employer. Carefully and completely fill out any injury report forms available at work. See your doctor or chiropractor right away and give a detailed and accurate history of how you were injured and what symptoms you are experiencing. Make sure your boss, foreman, co-workers or others are aware of the injury and how it happened, so there will be no shortage of witnesses if the claim is disputed. Also, the more people who know about the injury, the less likely an employer might be to risk retaliating against you.

Talk to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney about your legal rights and the employer’s responsibilities.  In my experience, once you have a lawyer in your corner, the employer and insurer are far less likely to bend the laws which are intended to protect you.   They know when they are being watched.

If you have questions or concerns about a retaliatory discharge or other harassment following a work injury, call me at Bradt Law Offices anytime for a free consultation.

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What Is Permanent Total Disability in Minnesota Work Comp?

In a Minnesota worker’s compensation claim, Permanent Total Disability (abbreviated as PTD) is a wage loss benefit paid to someone who is determined to be permanently unemployable as the result of a work injury.  It is one of three main types of wage loss benefits payable to someone injured on the job in Minnesota. The other two types of benefits are Temporary Total Disability (TTD) and Temporary Partial Disability (TPD).  This article deals only with Permanent Total Disability benefits.

For the purposes of this article, we will first assume that the injury or disability occurred on the job and that the injury claim has been accepted by the employer and its workers’ compensation insurer.  This article is not intended to cover every possible situation or all of the possible claims or defenses involved in a PTD claim.  Rather, this is a brief summary of what PTD benefits are and how they may be obtained.

There are two ways by which a person can be determined to be Permanently Totally Disabled:  By agreement or by a judge.

By Agreement:  If the medical and vocational evidence is strong and the insurance company doesn’t have any good defenses, they may simply agree that a person is permanently and totally disabled and begin paying benefits.

By a Judge:  In most cases, because the financial exposure for the insurance company is so high, the issue of whether an injured worker is PTD will be submitted to a workers’ compensation judge at a formal hearing.  The insurance company usually decides that they will take their chances at a hearing,  rather than voluntarily agree to pay PTD benefits.  At a hearing, the judge will listen to testimony from the employee, the medical and vocational witnesses, review all of the relevant medical and other documents and make a decision based upon Minnesota law.  Either party can appeal the judge’s decision.
How do you prove that you are “permanently totally disabled”?

Under Minnesota law, there are certain medical conditions that automatically qualify someone for permanent  total disability  (permanent loss of sight in both eyes, loss of both arms at the shoulder, loss of both legs close to the hips , paralysis, total and permanent loss of mental faculties).

If one of these automatically qualifying conditions is not present,  you would then need to prove that:

-Your work injury has resulted in permanent physical restrictions;
-You are unable to return to the job you were performing on the date of your injury;
-You have searched for other work unsuccessfully;
-You are not a suitable candidate to be retrained;
-and that you therefore meet the definition of “permanently and totally disabled” set forth in the workers’ compensation statutes (see Subd. 4 & 5), also taking into account your age, education, physical disability, training and experience.

One Final Requirement.  The Minnesota Legislature added an additional threshold requirement for Permanent Total Disability for injuries occurring on or after October 1, 1995.  If your work injury occurred on or after that date, you must also have a minimum Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) rating in order to receive PTD benefits.  A PPD rating is a percentage, taken from the Workers’ Compensation Disability Schedules, which is intended to compensate for a permanent functional impairment from a work injury.  If you don’t have the minimum rating required, you cannot receive Permanent Total Disability benefits, no matter how truly disabled you might be.

The minimum rating is 13%,  15% or 17%, depending upon factors such as your age and education. The unfairness of this threshold PPD rating has been demonstrated by many cases in the years since the law was passed, but it remains on the books and prevents many injured workers from being able to receive Permanent Total Disability benefits.

As in any legal proceeding, the facts of every case are unique and a workers’ compensation judge makes a decision on the basis of all  the evidence and in light of the law and previously decided cases.  This is only a general summary.  If you have questions about a Permanent Total Disability claim or other work comp issues, contact me anytime at Bradt Law Offices for a free consultation.

Other common questions related to Permanent Total Disability claims, which will be addressed in later articles:
How much would I receive for Permanent Total Disability benefits?

How long can I get Permanent Total Disability benefits?

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Bradt Law Offices Case Report: Shoulder Surgery Approved

Type of Case:   Workers’ Compensation

Legal Issue or Dispute:   Denial of shoulder surgery

Facts:   Our client worked for a major, nationwide retailer at a store in northern Minnesota. She fell and was injured while at work. Her orthopedic surgeon recommended shoulder surgery but the workers’ compensation insurance company refused to authorize it, claiming her shoulder problems were not caused by the work injury.

Result:   We obtained medical reports from our client’s treating doctors and took the case to a trial before a workers’ compensation judge in Duluth. The judge ruled in our client’s favor, ordering the insurance company to pay for the surgery and all related medical expenses. We have also filed a request asking the Judge to order the insurance company to pay our fees.