How Long Does a Minnesota Work Comp Claim Stay Open?

A few times each year I get calls from people with questions about an old Minnesota work comp claim. Most often, they have either had some type of flareup or progressively worsening symptoms from a work injury which had occurred several years in the past. The questions usually relate to whether the insurance company is still responsible to pay medical bills or other benefits.

There is no simple answer to this type of question but there are some general guidelines which might be helpful. The facts of each case are always different and whether your claim is still “open” will depend on some of these factors:

Was the Original Injury Reported to the Employer and Accepted by the Work Comp Insurer?  This is the starting point for determining whether the claim is still open or whether any ongoing benefits are available. When a work injury claim is reported to your employer’s work comp insurer, the insurer will decide whether to accept or deny the claim. Soon after reporting the injury you should receive a form from the insurance company entitled Notice of Insurer’s Primary Liability Determination. The form will tell you if the claim is accepted or denied and should also provide the basis for any denial.

If the claim is accepted, you may be eligible for various types of benefits under the work comp system, including wage loss, medical benefits and vocational rehabilitation services. The insurer can still fight with you or deny various types of benefits for any number of reasons, but if the claim is accepted a major battle is eliminated right at the beginning of your claim.

If the claim is denied by the insurer, you must formally file a Claim Petition with the Department of Labor and Industry-Workers’ Compensation Division before the statute of limitation (deadline) expires, or the claim is barred forever. If you have had a claim denied by a work comp insurer my recommendation would be to contact an experienced work comp attorney immediately to see what statute of limitation or deadline might apply to your case. If you wait too long, you will lose all workers’ compensation rights related to the injury.

Assuming that your claim has been accepted by the work comp insurer, these are some of the other issues which help determine whether you have any remaining benefits available:

Did You Make a Settlement?  Many work comp claims in Minnesota ultimately result in a settlement of some type. If you reached a settlement in your case, with or without an attorney, the settlement terms will generally be set forth in a document called a “Stipulation for Settlement” which is signed by the parties and approved by a workers’ compensation judge. A settlement can resolve some, or all claims related to an injury.

Frequently, a settlement will close out all future claims in exchange for a lump sum payment, but will leave open future medical expenses related to your injury. In other cases, a settlement closes all future claims, including future medical. Under the terms of that type of settlement you would not have any remaining benefits available to you from the original work injury. (For more information, see Types of Settlements in Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Claims)

Have You Been to a Hearing Before a Work Comp Judge?  If there were disputed issues in your case you may have ended up at a work comp hearing where the issues were decided by a judge. The judge’s decision may affect what benefits are available to you in the future. If you were represented by an attorney, he or she should be able to explain what potential benefits remain available to you.

How Long Ago Was Your Injury?  There have been significant changes to Minnesota’s work comp laws over the past 30 + years, particularly in 1984, 1992 and 1995. As a general rule, the law in effect on the date of your injury will control what benefits are available to you. Over the years, there have been limits or caps imposed on wage loss, medical and vocational rehabilitation, so the date of your injury is a very important factor to consider when evaluating what benefits may be available on your claim.

Were You Ever Given a Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) rating?  A PPD rating is usually given by your surgeon or treating physician upon completion of your treatment or recovery from your injury. If you qualify for a rating under the disability schedules, the doctor provides the applicable percentage (%) rating from the schedules and you are entitled to be compensated by the insurer based upon that percentage. Not every injury results in a ratable disability but if you had surgery or have permanent restrictions or symptoms, you may qualify. This benefit is often overlooked and not paid, particularly if the injured worker did not have an attorney providing guidance. (For more information on this subject, please check out our previous post explaining Permanent Partial Disability Ratings)

Have you had a new injury or aggravation? Let’s say you had a back injury in 1998 which was accepted by the work comp insurer and you received wage loss and medical benefits following the injury. Assuming you went back to work at some point and are now having low back problems again, the original insurer is not likely to resume payment of medical or other benefits without some updated information from you, such as:

-Do your current problems involve the same part of your back that was injured in 1998?

-Have you had any new back injuries since 1998 (work injuries, car accidents, slip and falls, etc)?

-Have your work activities since 1998 aggravated or accelerated your back problems?  (if so, you might have a new work comp claim  against your current employer. For more information about a gradual, repetitive injury claim see our previous article here)

-Have you been getting regular medical care over the years for your back and do the medical records support your claim that the problems are related to the 1998 injury?

There are many other factors which may affect whether you have any claims remaining from an old work comp injury. These are just a few of the considerations that might come into play. If you have questions about an old injury claim and were represented by an attorney, you should start by contacting the attorney’s office to see if they still have your file or could provide you with documents or information. If that’s not an option or if you did not have an attorney, we would be happy to offer a free consultation to answer your questions and provide whatever guidance that we can. Some helpful information for you to gather before any consultation would be the date of injury, name of the work comp insurer and copies of any settlements or other legal decisions relating to your claim.

Thank you for visiting our blog. At Bradt Law Offices, we have been providing assistance to injured workers all across northern Minnesota and the Iron Range for more than 33 years. If you found this information helpful, please spread the word that we are a good source of work comp information and assistance for workers injured in northern Minnesota and anywhere on the Iron Range.

Bradt Law Offices Case Report: Ankle Injury on a Flat, Dry Floor

Type of Case: Workers’ Compensation

Legal Issue or Dispute: Denial of ankle injury claim which occurred at work

Facts: Our client was employed with one of the mining companies in northern Minnesota. His job duties required him to maintain and repair equipment within the facility. On the day he was injured, one of the machines in the plant malfunctioned and began to spew waste material into the air and onto the plant floor. Our client received a radio call to get to the machine, evaluate the problem and assist in any maintenance or repairs which might be necessary.

As he was hurrying across the concrete plant floor and approaching the malfunctioning machine, he rolled his ankle and suffered a severe ankle sprain. The floor was not wet and he did not recall stepping on, or tripping over, any hoses or other debris. He wasn’t even sure what happened except that he was hurrying because of the emergency and was looking up at the malfunctioning machine rather than at the floor.

The claim was completely denied by the employer and its workers’ compensation insurer on the grounds that the injury was not related to the employee’s work activities because he was simply walking across the plant floor at the time of the injury and there was no unsafe or dangerous condition in the plant or on the premises which caused the injury.

The case proceeded to trial before a workers’ compensation judge where we argued that the employee’s work environment caused or contributed to the injury because he was hurrying to deal with an emergency situation and not paying attention to the floor. His job duties required him to deal with the malfunctioning machine as quickly as possible and those factors are what caused or contributed to the injury.

Result: The compensation judge ruled in favor of our client and determined that his ankle injury was covered by workers’ compensation. The case was appealed by the employer/insurer and the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals affirmed the judge’s decision and awarded benefits to our client.

The insurance company was also required to pay our attorney fees and costs.

If you have questions about any aspect of your northern Minnesota work comp claim, please feel free to contact me at Bradt Law Offices at any time. I am happy to speak with you about your claim or make an appointment for an absolutely free consultation in our Grand Rapids office or wherever it would be convenient for you. We have been representing your friends and neighbors on their work comp claims all across northeastern Minnesota and the Iron Range for more than 30 years. If you’ve been injured, we can help.

Thank you for visiting our blog.

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.

Bradt Law Offices Case Report: Permanent total disability benefits awarded following trial

Type of Case:   Workers’ Compensation

Legal Issue or Dispute:   Permanent total disability  (even though our client was still working part-time).

Facts:   Our client was 57 years old when she went to work on a part-time basis for the employer. She had some history of low back problems but did not have any restrictions at the time she was hired and was not receiving any medical treatment for her low back. Unfortunately, within a few months after she was hired, she suffered a new low back injury which significantly limited her ability to do the job. She was eventually released to work only 6 hours per week by her treating doctor, and was restricted from  any lifting or other physical activities.

The insurance company sent her for an independent medical exam (IME), and the insurance company doctor said that her back problems were pre-existing and that she didn’t need any work restrictions from the new injury. The employer created a “job” for her, which basically only required that she show up for 6 hours per week, even if she didn’t actually perform any work activities while there. We filed a claim for permanent total disability (PTD), which was denied by the insurance company.  (see this previous post for more information about permanent total disability claims)

At the trial, our vocational experts testified that the job created for our client was not competitive employment, but was only a position created by the employer to avoid responsibility for permanent total disability benefits. We argued that our client met the definition of permanently and totally disabled, because she was “unable to secure anything more than sporadic employment resulting in an insubstantial income.” (The definition of permanent total disability in the work comp statute – see subdivision 5)

Result:   The judge rejected the opinions of the insurance company’s doctor, accepted our medical and vocational evidence and declared our client permanently and totally disabled.

If you have questions about any aspect of your northern Minnesota work comp claim,  please feel free to contact me at Bradt Law Offices at any time.  I am happy to speak with you about your claim or make an appointment for an absolutely free consultation in our Grand Rapids office or wherever it would be convenient for you. We have been representing your friends and neighbors on their work comp claims 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.

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.