Click on this link to read an excellent investigative series of articles which highlight a new scheme by corporate America to avoid participation in state regulated Workers’ Compensation programs which often result in disastrous consequences for men and women injured on the job.
It’s bad enough that state legislatures, including ours right here in Minnesota, have chipped away at the rights and benefits of injured workers over the past 30 years. Now, some states are getting rid of workers’ compensation altogether and creating their own systems for compensating workers injured on the job. The argument made by business owners is, of course, that this is good for the injured working man or woman. Don’t believe it. If it’s being proposed by business you can bet that the motivation is strictly the bottom line – employers save money and the injured worker loses rights and benefits.
For more details about this scary prospect and how it is happening in other states, click on the link to read this excellent article : Inside Corporate America’s Campaign to Ditch Workers’ Comp.
As a work comp attorney representing injured workers for more than 30 years here in northern Minnesota, I find this to be a very scary development. If it is being pushed through in other states, you can be assured that it may eventually be tried here. Please feel free to share this article with anyone you feel might be interested.
Thank you for visiting our blog and please feel free to contact us at any time if you have questions about a work comp claim or would like to set up a free consultation to discuss your rights if you’ve been injured on the job in Minnesota.
Over the past several years we have seen the increasing use of mediation to settle work comp cases in Minnesota. If you have a work comp claim, you may wonder why a settlement conference was scheduled on your case but a mediation has then been proposed or scheduled. What’s the difference, and is one better than the other?
Settlement conferences are automatically scheduled by the workers’ compensation Office of Administrative Hearings after a claim is filed.
In every work comp case where a Claim Petition is filed, a settlement conference is automatically scheduled for approximately 6 months later. Depending upon where you live, these conferences may be scheduled by telephone or may take place in person with a work comp settlement judge in St. Paul. A settlement conferences is an informal opportunity for the parties to attempt to settle any disputed issues and sometimes the entire claim.
Settlement conferences are scheduled to last one hour and a work comp judge presides over the conference to help the parties reach a settlement. It is not a trial and the judge does not have any authority to order the parties to agree to any particular terms, nor does the judge have authority to make any decisions about the disputed issues. If the claim does not settle, it will be put on the trial calendar for a hearing a few months later with a different judge.
Frequently, settlement conferences are either postponed or canceled altogether. A conference may be postponed because it is too early in the case to discuss settlement, possibly because of pending surgeries or ongoing medical care which needs to be completed. In other cases, the parties may agree that there is no possibility of settlement and ask that the case be put on the trial calendar for hearing. This may occur in cases where the insurance company has denied liability for the claim or where there is a dispute over a proposed surgery or medical procedure. In these types of cases, there may be no room for compromise and the disputed issues need to be decided by a judge.
If a case is settled at a conference, the defense attorney will prepare a Stipulation for Settlement, which sets forth the terms of the agreement. All necessary parties must sign the Stipulation and it is then submitted to a compensation judge for approval before the insurance company makes payment.
A mediation is also a method to get the case settled but it is more formal and involved than a simple one hour settlement conference. Typically, the parties agree to mediate cases that are more complicated or have more value. The parties will choose a mutually agreeable mediator who is experienced in Minnesota workers’ compensation matters. The mediation may take place at the mediator’s office, at one of the attorneys’ office or at a neutral site depending upon the availability of conference rooms and where all the parties live or work.
Prior to the mediation, the employee or her attorney will submit a detailed case evaluation and settlement proposal to the insurance company. Both parties will also submit confidential background information to the mediator before the mediation so the mediator understands the issues, the claim values and the relative position of each party.
Once the mediation begins, the parties will usually be in separate conference rooms and the mediator will visit back and forth between the rooms with settlement offers and counter offers. The process may take part or all of the day until the parties either come to an agreement or determine that they cannot agree on a settlement amount or terms. Most mediations will probably be completed in 2-4 hours.
If no settlement is reached the case simply continues toward a hearing on the disputed issues and all discussions, offers or counter offers remain confidential and cannot be discussed or used at any later hearings. Essentially, there is no risk in pursuing a mediation and it is often a good way to find out how each party is valuing the case, even if a settlement is not reached. If nothing else, you will find out what the insurance company is willing to pay to settle your claim at that time. The value of any claim might increase or decrease after the mediation, depending upon medical, employment or other factors.
If a settlement is reached at the mediation, the process is the same as for any other work comp settlement. A Stipulation for Settlement is prepared, signed by the parties and submitted to a work comp judge for approval.
Do I Need an Attorney for a Mediation or Settlement Conference?
Technically, any employee may represent himself in a work comp claim at a settlement conference, mediation or even at a trial. However, keep in mind that the insurance company has experienced claims adjusters and attorneys looking out for their interests. Also, the insurance company’s interests are not the same as yours, so it is not reasonable to expect that they will voluntarily pay you a fair settlement if you are not represented by an experienced attorney.
In any type of work comp case, particularly where there are discussions about settlement or disputed issues, it is a good idea to consult with an experienced attorney to make sure you understand your rights and are being treated fairly by the insurance company.
If you have been injured on the job and have questions about the Minnesota work comp system, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. You can contact us anytime, with questions about your case or to arrange an absolutely free consultation. It won’t cost you anything and we will always give you our honest assessment about whether you need a lawyer to represent you. If you have questions or concerns about the cost of hiring an attorney, you can check out this previous post- How much does it cost to hire a workers’ compensation lawyer in Minnesota?
At Bradt Law Offices, we have been providing assistance to injured workers all across northern Minnesota and the Iron Range for more than 30 years.
As always, thank you 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 or anywhere on the Iron Range.
In my experience, the majority of Minnesota work comp claims “fly under the radar”, meaning there are no lawyers involved, no major disputes, no conferences or trials with the work comp judges, no settlements, etc. Claims involving minor injuries with fast recoveries typically are opened and closed relatively quickly without any involvement in the legal system. The goal of the work comp system is to quickly and efficiently compensate an injured worker for his or her injuries, pay the medical bills and return the injured worker to work as soon as possible. When that happens, everyone wins and the system works.
Unfortunately, not all work injury claims are that simple. When a case becomes complicated or problems arise, that’s when our office typically receives a call from an injured worker with questions or concerns. Sometimes we can simply provide information or answer some basic questions about the work comp system. In other cases, we are hired to represent the injured worker in a disputed claim with the insurance company.
There are some basic things that you can do when you have been hurt at work to avoid problems or disputes with the insurance company. Please keep in mind that these are generalizations and certainly don’t apply to every case. Each and every work comp claim is different, depending upon the employer, the insurer, the injured worker, the average weekly wage, the nature and extent of the injuries and a host of other potential factors . However, a few simple pointers can help make the claim proceed more smoothly in many cases.
1. Report the Injury Promptly and Accurately.
One of the most important things you can do if you suffer a work injury is to report the injury promptly to your employer or a supervisor. There are time limits for giving notice and if you wait too long your claim may be lost forever. Most employers will have a form to fill out but it is most important that you simply notify the employer of the work injury as soon as it happens. If you have an injury or health problem that was not caused by a specific incident but you believe it was caused by your work activities, you still need to give your employer notice that you believe you have a work related injury. (For more information, please see our previous post regarding repetitive injuries)
Accuracy in reporting the injury is also important. If you suffer an injury and are having symptoms in your neck, back, elbow, knee and wrist, make sure to list each and every body part on any notice of injury or injury report. If you develop symptoms in a new body part after the injury, promptly give notice to your employer that you are also claiming an injury to the new body part.
2. Promptly Seek Medical Attention for a Work Injury or a Work Related Medical Condition.
If you are like most people, you probably don’t visit the doctor any more often than is absolutely necessary. However, it is important to your claim that your injury or medical condition is documented early and accurately. If the claim is denied, you will need to prove your case and the best way to do so is to have medical records documenting that you reported the injury or condition to your doctor right away.
It’s also important that you make sure your doctor understands each and every injury or condition you are claiming and how they relate to your work injury or activities. The initial medical records are often crucial in disputed work comp claims and can make or break your case.
3. Keep Your Doctor Up-to-date on Your Symptoms and Work Activities.
If you continue to work with restrictions after the injury, make sure to let the doctor know if the job is aggravating your injury or if you are unable to perform your job duties. Your doctor can modify restrictions or the issue can be addressed with the employer and insurer early on in the process before it becomes a bigger problem.
4. Follow Your Doctor’s Advice.
If your treating doctor recommends physical therapy or other types of treatment, follow through with those recommendations. This is not only a good idea if you want to recover from the injury but it will also help keep your doctor supportive of you and your claim. At some point, a dispute may arise and you or your lawyer may need to ask the doctor for a medical report. The doctor is much more likely to be helpful if you have been compliant with his or her treatment recommendations.
5. Don’t Quit Your Job or Refuse a Job Offer Without Consulting a Lawyer.
If you become frustrated or angry with the employer or the work comp insurance company, you may decide to simply quit the job and walk away. This can have a significant impact on your entitlement to work comp benefits now and in the future. Before you do anything rash, contact an attorney to get some information about your rights as an injured worker. If you quit the job and then contact an attorney, it may be too late for the attorney to help you.
6. Be Aware of Surveillance.
In many cases, if the insurance company suspects that you are exaggerating your symptoms or being less than honest about your claim, they may hire an investigator to perform surveillance. This typically involves someone following you around and taking pictures or video of you performing daily activities at home or in your community. Video evidence which shows you performing activities outside of your doctor’s restrictions can be very damaging and may jeopardize your entire claim. If you have work restrictions, to be safe you should always assume that someone is watching you away from work and you should keep those restrictions in mind at all times.
These are just a few suggestions to keep in mind if you have been injured at work. Keep in mind that the work comp insurance company has experienced claim adjusters and attorneys looking out for their interests. They are not looking out for you, they are looking out for the insurance company’s bottom line. If you have any questions or concerns about a work injury claim, it’s always a good idea to consult with an experienced work comp attorney to learn about your rights. At Bradt Law Offices, we provide a free consultation on all Minnesota work comp claims. We have been helping your friends and neighbors with work comp claims throughout all of northern Minnesota for more than 30 years. Please don’t hesitate to call or contact us at any time with questions or if you need help.
Thank you for visiting our blog.
Type of Case: Workers’ Compensation
Legal Issue or Dispute: Consequential knee injury following a back injury
Facts: Our client suffered a low back injury in the course and scope of his employment. The injury was accepted by the work comp insurer and our client eventually had two back surgeries. Although the surgeries were successful, he was left with some ongoing weakness, instability and radiating symptoms down one of his legs. The instability caused him to occasionally stumble or lose his balance, which resulted in a twisting injury to his knee. After treating for several months, our client ultimately required knee surgery.
We submitted the knee injury medical bills to work comp, because the knee injury was a consequence of the original back injury. Predictably, the insurance company denied responsibility for the knee problems and we filed a formal claim. We obtained a report from the knee surgeon explaining how the knee injury was related to the back injury and the case was set for trial.
Result: Before trial, the insurance company agreed to accept the knee injury claim and paid all of the medical bills related to the knee injury and surgery. In addition, our client was reimbursed for his medical mileage and expenses, out-of-pocket medical bills related to the knee injury and the insurance company agreed to accept responsibility for any future medical care for his knee. Finally, the insurance company paid our attorney fees and expenses.
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.
Unfortunately, the work comp insurance company can deny a claim on almost any basis, no matter how flimsy. This is how insurance companies avoid paying claims, because they know that a certain percentage of people will never hire a lawyer or pursue a claim if it has been denied. This is particularly true where the injured worker has health insurance or other benefits available – many people are simply afraid to call a lawyer or don’t know where to begin when their claim has been denied.
However, getting back to the original question: Can the insurance company deny your claim because of a pre-existing condition? The answer is “maybe”. A pre-existing condition may have some impact on whether you have a legitimate work comp claim. However, the simple fact that you have had some prior back problems, for example, does not necessarily disqualify you from bringing a claim for current back problems related to a work injury or your work activities. The issue is more complicated than that.
Example: Prior Back Problems
The real question is whether your prior back problems were affecting your ability to work or limiting your physical or other activities prior to the work incident. Many people have back problems or other physical ailments which intermittently give them some problems but “come and go”. They are able to continue working and enjoying their usual and regular physical activities with only occasional flareups of symptoms. If a work injury or your regular work activities significantly aggravates or accelerates a pre-existing condition to the point where you now need medical care and may need some physical restrictions or limitations, then you probably have a work comp claim.
Prior Work Comp Claims Involving the Same Body Part
Another common issue arises where a person has had a prior work comp claim involving the same body part. We’ll continue with the example of a bad back. Let’s say you had a back injury 10 years ago which was treated as work comp. The insurance company paid you wage loss and medical benefits but you were able to return to work. Now, you have had a new back injury or your work activities have gradually caused an increase or return of your back problems. The claim could be against the same or a new employer, but there will probably be a different work comp insurance company involved since your claim from 10 years ago.
This is a work comp claim, but you can almost be assured there will be a dispute between the current work comp insurance company and the company that provided coverage 10 years ago when you filed your prior claim. In all likelihood, the claim will be covered by one insurance company or the other, but there may be a delay in obtaining benefits while the insurance companies slug it out between themselves.
When in Doubt — Contact an Attorney
If you find yourself in a situation where your claim has been denied because the insurance company says you have a pre-existing condition, or if two insurance companies are each arguing that the other is responsible, it’s time to contact an attorney. The insurance companies have lawyers and other experts protecting their interests and they are not looking out for yours. An experienced work comp attorney should be able to review your medical records and any prior work comp records and give you an opinion as to what type of claim you have. If the insurance company wants to fight, make sure you have an attorney who is willing to go to bat for you and get you the benefits to which you are entitled.
At Bradt Law Offices, we have been representing your friends and neighbors in work comp and other injury claims for over 30 years. Our clients come from all over northern Minnesota and we are happy to discuss any claim, with anyone, at any time. Whether you just have some questions over the phone or would like to make an appointment to come in for a free consultation, don’t hesitate to call and let us help you. You will always get our honest opinion and there is never any fee unless we recover benefits for you.
Thank you for visiting our blog.