Workers Memorial Day events put focus on safety

(From an article published at Workday Minnesota)

ST. PAUL – Every year on April 28, unions observe Workers Memorial Day to remember those who have suffered and died on the job and to renew the effort for safe workplaces.

“This year the struggle continues to create good jobs in this country that are safe and healthy and to ensure the freedom of workers to form unions and, through their unions, to speak out and bargain for respect and a better future,” the Minnesota AFL-CIO said. “It’s time for our country to fulfill the promise of safe jobs for all.”

April 28 is the anniversary of the day Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act to set and enforce standards for workplace safety.

Events are planned throughout the state to commemorate Workers Memorial Day. For a complete schedule of events and locations,  read the entire article at Workday Minnesota.

Retraining in a Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Case

Among the many benefits available to an injured worker in Minnesota, retraining can be one of the most beneficial and life-changing.  If you have been injured and live in northern Minnesota, you may quickly find  that your employment options are extremely limited after you recover from your injury.  This may be  especially true if you are unable to return to your previous job and have limited employment skills.

Let’s say you graduated from high school on the Iron Range in the 1980’s and went right to work at one of the mines.  Maybe you went through a millwright program and learned some valuable skills, which allowed you to earn a good living for you and your family.  An unexpected back, neck or shoulder injury resulting in surgery or extended disability could change all of that in a hurry.  Even with a decent recovery from your injuries, you might be left with permanent physical restrictions or limitations which prevent you from returning to work as a millwright (or an electrician, shovel operator, production truck driver, lineman……..you get the picture.)

Now what? If you can’t return to the type of work you were doing before your injury, and if you don’t have any other skills or training to help you earn a decent living, what options do you have?  Retraining might be one of the options available.

What is meant by “retraining” in a work comp claim?

Retraining can include any number of educational opportunities, from a short course at your local vocational school to full studies at a college. There is no standard definition of retraining.  If you are eligible for retraining as a result of your workers’ compensation claim, the insurance company is responsible to pay the costs of your education, including books, tuition, travel expenses, etc.  In addition, you may also be eligible for continuing wage loss benefits during the course of your retraining program.

Who is eligible for retraining?

In order to be eligible, you must first establish that you have physical restrictions or limitations from your work injury which prevent you from returning to your pre-injury job.  You also need to prove that retraining is necessary in order for you to return to a job with earnings close to your preinjury wage.  The process can be long and complicated and the insurance company will usually fight retraining claims because they can be very expensive.  Your best allies in a retraining claim will be an experienced attorney, a supportive doctor and a trustworthy  Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant (QRC).    (What’s a  QRC?   Read more here)

If your attorney and the QRC are able to put together a solid retraining plan, the insurance company can either approve or deny the plan. If the plan is denied, a hearing will be scheduled and the matter will be decided by a workers’ compensation judge, just like any other disputed issue in a work comp claim.

What would I have to prove at a hearing to win a retraining claim?

As a general rule, the work comp judge will decide a disputed retraining claim based upon what are called the Poole factors. The Poole factors come from the case of  Poole vs. Farmstead Foods, Inc,  which was decided by the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals in 1989.  In that case, the Court of Appeals identified several factors to be considered in determining whether a retraining plan should be approved. Some of those factors are:

1. The reasonableness of retraining as compared to other job placement activities;

2. Whether the injured worker has the ability and interest to succeed in the proposed retraining plan or schooling;

3. Whether retraining is reasonably likely to result in employment;

4. Whether retraining is likely to get the injured worker back to, or close to, earning his or her pre-injury wage.

Retraining isn’t the first option that we look at in a typical workers’ compensation claim, but it also isn’t only a last resort.  The facts of every work comp case are different and varied.  If you feel that retraining might be an inappropriate option in your case,  some of the factors that determine whether retraining is even a consideration might include:

  • your age;
  • your average weekly wage on the date of injury;
  • the nature and extent of your injury;
  • your ongoing physical restrictions and limitations;
  • your previous education, employment and training;
  • the quality and extent of your job search activities;
  • the availability of jobs in your geographic area;
  • your willingness to relocate, if necessary;

Get More Information

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.

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What Exactly is a “Free Consultation” in a Minnesota Work Comp Claim?

Okay, maybe this seems like a really silly question. However, if you are considering calling a lawyer about a workers’ compensation matter, you probably want to make sure that you are not going to receive a bill, at any time, for anything. Free should mean free, right?

I can’t speak for any other law firm, but at Bradt Law Offices, a free consultation for your work comp case means just that – A FREE CONSULTATION. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly.

A consultation might mean a simple phone conversation to discuss your claim. The phone call is free. No charge.

If we discuss your claim on the phone and decide to schedule a meeting, the meeting is also free. No charge. We can meet in our office, in the hospital or at your home. Free. No charge.

In all seriousness, I hope that I have made my point. If you contact us about your claim, you will never be charged for a phone call, a meeting or any other type of consultation about your claim. It makes no difference whether we take your case, or not. If you hire us, we will pay the necessary expenses to obtain medical records and reports, depositions, investigations, expert opinions, etc. Unless you have a very unusual case or we make different arrangements with you, you will never get a bill from us or be asked to pay us any money out of your own pocket.

Contingent Fee Arrangements for all Work Comp Claims

In Minnesota work comp cases, attorney fees are set by law and we only get paid if we win.  Not only are the fees contingent on our success, but our fees are controlled by law and are the same for every lawyer in every Minnesota work comp case.  Attorney fees are 25% of the first $4000 we recover for you, and then 20% after that.  In some cases, the work comp insurance company may even have to pay our fees.  (For a more complete discussion of work comp attorney fees in Minnesota, you may want to read one of our previous blog posts,  How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer in Minnesota?)

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Experienced Legal Advice

If you have any questions, at any time, about a possible work comp claim, please don’t be afraid to call or e-mail us. We are happy to help and will always give you an honest opinion, based on 28 years of experience helping injured people all across northern Minnesota and on the Iron Range.

Oh, and one more thing – the coffee is free, too.

Was this post helpful?  Did it answer your questions?  If you would like to contact us for a free consultation or to send us an email, CLICK HERE.

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T

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.

Was this post helpful?  Did it answer your questions?  If you would like to contact us for a free consultation or to send us an email, CLICK HERE.

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How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer in Minnesota?

Let’s face it, nobody likes the thought of having to hire a lawyer.  The very idea of calling a lawyer or making an appointment can be very stressful. If you are like most people,  you’ve never needed to hire a lawyer and have no idea what’s involved.  You probably have a number of questions and concerns, but for most people, the # 1 question is:  “How much will it cost  (or, how do I pay a work comp lawyer)?”

In Minnesota, hiring a workers’ compensation lawyer is actually fairly painless.  In a nutshell, we only get paid if we are successful.  I can’t speak for other law firms, but at Bradt Law Offices, we don’t ask for any money up front to cover costs or expenses and you’ll never receive a bill from us. It costs you nothing to hire us and we only get paid if we recover benefits for you.

Attorney Fees Are Set by Law

Not only do we only get paid if we win, but our fees are controlled by law and are the same for every lawyer in every Minnesota work comp case. Attorney fees are 25% of the first $4000 we recover for you, and then 20% after that.  The maximum automatic fee under this formula is $13,000 for each date of injury.  In the majority of cases, attorney fees never come close to $13,000.   In some cases, however, we may receive total fees in excess of $13,000 where there are multiple disputes, prolonged and ongoing litigation or where our client receives a substantial amount of benefits or a large settlement.  We never request fees in excess of $13,000 without our clients’ agreement and understanding.

Situations Where We Might Receive a Fee from Your Benefits 

Attorney fees are only paid from disputed  benefits.  If you hire us and are already receiving wage loss benefits, we do not start taking a percentage of those benefits because we didn’t get them for you.   We would represent you from that point forward on any other issues that may come up during the course of your claim.  In fact, we sometimes open and close a file without earning any attorney fees because no disputes ever arise.  These are examples of some common situations where you might pay attorney fees out of benefits you receive:

  • Your claim is denied and we get benefits for you, either by settlement or after a trial
  • Your benefits are discontinued and we get them reinstated
  • The insurance company is underpaying you and we get your benefits increased
  • We negotiate a settlement of your claim

Some Attorney Fees Are Paid by the Insurance Company

Not every dispute in a work comp claim involves money payable to you.  For example, the insurance company may be voluntarily paying your wage loss benefits but refusing to approve surgery, an MRI or a referral to a medical specialist.  This would be strictly a medical dispute.  If we file a claim for the disputed medical issues and win, the insurance company will pay our attorney fees, not you.

Or, if there is a dispute involving a QRC or vocational rehabilitation issues and we win, the insurance company will again have to pay our fees, because we aren’t putting any money in your pocket.  Wherever possible, we  always try to get the insurance company to pay our fees.

Free Consultation Over the Phone or in Person

At Bradt Law Offices,  you can call us anytime with questions about your claim or to see if you might need a lawyer.  If you prefer, we can make an appointment to meet in our office, in the hospital or at your home to discuss your case.  We will explain the work comp system , what benefits you might be entitled to and whether or not you need a lawyer.  There is never a charge for this service or information.

What we recommend

Don’t be afraid to call a lawyer if you have questions about a work comp claim or feel that you’re not being treated fairly by the insurance company.  At Bradt Law Offices, we speak with people all the time who simply have questions about a claim but don’t necessarily need an attorney.  We are happy to help in any way we can and, very often, people we speak with later end up hiring us when a dispute arises on their claim.

Was this post helpful?  Did it answer your questions?  If you would like to contact us for a free consultation or to send us an email, CLICK HERE.

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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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