The Risks of Not Reporting a Work Injury in Minnesota

A work injury can happen to anyone, at any time.  Injuries happen to people on the first day of a new job or after 20 years of injury-free employment.  There just isn’t any rhyme or reason to when an injury occurs.

An injury can be as trivial as a sprained thumb or as serious as a broken bone or spinal cord injury.  An injury may result in a few hours of discomfort or weeks to months of disability and lost time from work.  A serious injury resulting in medical care and lost time from work is a “no-brainer” when it comes to whether or not it should be reported.  In fact, in many cases, it doesn’t need to be reported because it was probably witnessed by coworkers or supervisors.  Those types of claims get filed, benefits are paid and the injured worker is “in the system” by no choice of his own and without any real options.

But what about the less serious injury that allows you to keep working?  How about an injury that requires a visit to the doctor but no lost time from work?  Or, what about that minor twinge you felt in your low back a few weeks ago that you barely noticed but is now becoming a more serious problem?

These are the types of injuries that many people, for a variety of reasons, choose not to report to their employer.  This topic comes to mind because I am convinced that the current scary economy is causing a lot of people to “work hurt”, without reporting work injuries.  You know who you are – you injured your back, neck, shoulder, knee – whatever – a few weeks or months ago but you haven’t turned in an injury claim.  You’re hoping that it will just get better, but it hasn’t.  You’re afraid that if you turn in the claim you might lose your job.  Or, if you go off work on comp, your job won’t be there for you after you’ve healed. So, you are one of many, many people who are “working hurt”.

What are the risks of not reporting a work injury?

Probably the biggest risk is that the injury may become more serious and it will then be too late to prove that it is a work comp claim.  For example, if you don’t turn in an injury report and six months or a year later you need surgery and are facing a prolonged period of disability, you may have a very difficult time establishing a work comp claim.  The insurance company will claim that you failed to give proper notice and that its now too late to file a claim..  The insurance company will also claim that you cannot prove your problems are related to an incident which occurred six months ago that you didn’t report.  Another problem will arise if you weren’t telling your doctor the whole story and there is nothing in your medical records about the injury happening at work.

While you may have health insurance to cover most of the medical bills, you will not be able to receive wage loss benefits, vocational rehabilitation assistance or reimbursement of your medical mileage.  These are all benefits which are provided under workers’ compensation.

What should you do if you get hurt at work and are afraid to report the injury?

My recommendation would be to contact an experienced work comp attorney.  A little information goes a long way in the work comp system. Most attorneys will provide you with a free initial consultation concerning your claim.  Once you understand your options, you can then make an informed decision about whether to report the injury or not.  It sounds like a simple solution, and it is.  Get some information about your potential claim and then make a decision.

For additional information on this topic, here are a couple of previous posts or other references:

Workers’ Compensation Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Get Fired for Filing a Work Comp Claim?

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.

What Is a Repetitive or Gillette Work Injury in Minnesota?

One of the more confusing issues in a Minnesota work comp claim is what constitutes an “injury”.   If you fall off a ladder and break your arm while at work, we would all agree that you had a work injury.  If you wrenched your back lifting a heavy box at work –  again, that is pretty clearly a work injury.

But what if you are pretty sure your sore back (or knees, neck, shoulder, etc) was caused by your job duties but you never had a specific work injury?  Are you still covered by workers’ compensation?  The short answer is YES, but you may have to prove it if the insurance company denies your claim.

Over the years I have had many, many clients tell me they had no idea they had a work comp claim because they had never suffered a specific injury.  I have met with people who have undergone major back surgeries and never knew the claim could be turned in to work comp.  The same goes for shoulder injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, neck injuries, worn-out knees, hips, ankles and a number of other conditions which can be very painful and disabling.

These are referred to as “repetitive work injuries” or Gillette injuries.  The term repetitive work injury simply means that your medical or disabling condition occurred gradually over time, instead of from a specific, single incident.  They are also called “Gillette injuries”, because of a 1960 Minnesota Supreme Court case, Gillette v. Harold, Inc, which decided that work injuries can occur as a result of repetitive or cumulative “minor trauma” caused by performing ordinary job duties.

What should you do if you have an injury or medical condition which you think might have been caused by your work activities?

The first thing you should do is notify your employer, by filling out an injury or incident report.  If you fail to do so, the work comp insurance company may have a defense to the claim later on, by claiming that you did not give notice of your injury or condition, even when you realized it was probably related to your work activities.

The second thing you should do is see your doctor or chiropractor and explain in detail how you believe your problems are related to your work activities.  For example, if your job involves a lot of lifting, twisting and bending which seems to give you low back pain, make sure you tell your medical provider.  If it doesn’t show up in the medical records, it may be difficult for you to prove your claim later on.

Some examples of repetitive or Gillette injuries

A very common claim is a back or neck injury caused by physically demanding labor such as heavy lifting, frequent bending, twisting or working in awkward positions.  The problem may start as just an occasional sore back but gradually worsen over time.  Ultimately, you may end up unable to work and needing significant medical care and treatment, possibly even surgery.  (See our case report for a good example)

Another typical claim would be where someone develops carpal tunnel syndrome or elbow problems from repetitive activities involving the use of the hands and arms.  We have seen this type of injury in our clients who do repetitive gripping, grasping, twisting activities and gradually develop pain or soreness in the hands and arms.  (See another case report for this type of claim)

These are only two common examples.  We have also represented people who suffered gradually occurring injuries to knees, ankles, hips, shoulders and other body parts from physically demanding, repetitive jobs. . There are nearly as many examples of repetitive injury claims as there are types of jobs.

Are work comp benefits different for repetitive injuries?

No.  An injury is an injury, no matter whether it was specific or repetitive.  You are entitled to exactly the same wage loss, medical and vocational benefits under Minnesota work comp laws, no matter what type of injury you have.  The only real difference is that repetitive injuries can be more difficult to prove and easier for the insurance company to deny.

What we recommend

If you suspect that your work activities are causing, or aggravating, a medical condition which affects your ability to work, feel free to contact us for your absolutely free consultation.  Whether or not you have already given notice to your employer, we are happy to answer any questions you might have and give you our opinion about whether you might need a lawyer.  If you have given your employer notice of a potential injury claim and have had no response from the work comp insurance company in more than 30 days, that would also be a good time to contact us for more information about your options.  If your claim is denied, proving a repetitive injury claim can be tricky and requires the strong support of your treating doctor.

Workers’ compensation insurance companies  (like all insurance companies) don’t pay anything more then they absolutely have to.  If you don’t make a claim, they won’t even know about it.  If you give notice of a repetitive injury claim they may simply ignore it and hope that you go away– and a lot of injured people do.  A little bit of information can be very helpful to you in deciding whether to pursue a claim or hire a lawyer.  Contact us anytime and let us help.

Thanks  for visiting our blog and please spread the word that we are a good source of  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.