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.

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.

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.

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.