My Minnesota Work Comp Claim Was Denied Because of a Prior Injury. Now What?

This is another of the common problems we often deal with when helping people who have been injured on the job across northern Minnesota.

Typical situation:  you have been working for several years without any physical problems, work restrictions, lost time or any other difficulties or limitations. Then one day at work, you are lifting or carrying something and suffer an injury to your back (or neck, shoulder, knee, elbow, etc.). You report the injury to your employer, explaining exactly what happened and you make an appointment to see your doctor or chiropractor.

Maybe you fill out some more paperwork for your employer or maybe you receive a call from a claims adjuster from the work comp insurance company, asking for more details about the injury and your medical history. Perhaps you are off work on doctor’s orders and receiving therapy or other treatment while you try to heal and get back to work.

One day in the mail you receive a notice from the work comp insurance company explaining that your work comp claim has been denied. DENIED?!?! Apparently, you had received medical treatment for a back injury 15 years ago and the insurance company has decided that your current problems are a pre-existing condition. Claim denied!

Claim Denied. Options?

At this point, you may have already lost several weeks of wages and run up hundreds, or thousands, of dollars in medical bills.  You had reasonably assumed that everything would be taken care of by work comp because your injury had occurred on the job. Now what do you do? Well, you basically have two options:

Option #1:  Walk away. If you have health insurance or are willing to go back to work and “tough it out”, you can simply let the matter drop and walk away from the claim. Your employer and the work comp insurance company would be very happy if you make that choice. In fact, insurance companies count on the fact that many people will simply walk away after a claim is denied, instead of even contacting an attorney for legal advice or a consultation. The downside of this option is that your claim will never be recorded as a work injury and you will have no protection if it turns out to be a long-term or serious problem. In addition, all claims have deadlines, also called statutes of limitation, which require you to formally file a work comp claim with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, Workers’ Compensation Division, within a certain time frame. If you fail to legally file your claim before the deadline expires your claim will be barred forever. An experienced attorney can tell you when the deadline might be for your particular claim.

Option #2:  Fight the insurance company for the benefits to which you are entitled under Minnesota’s workers’ compensation laws. Your first step would be to contact an experienced work comp attorney for a consultation to see if you have a claim worth pursuing. After that, the attorney will pursue the claim by gathering medical records and reports, filing whatever claims you might have and fighting with the insurance company on your behalf until the claim is resolved.

Can My Claim Be Denied Because I Had a Prior Injury To the Same Body Part?

There are any number of reasons that the insurance company may use to deny a claim and this is one of them. Unfortunately, many people believe that a pre-existing condition or prior injury disqualifies them from a work comp claim if they later injure the same body part. Again, this is the type of misinformation the insurance company relies on when they deny claims and hope that the person simply walks away.

 

Aggravation of a Pre-existing Condition

The law in Minnesota does not disqualify you from work comp benefits if you have a prior injury or medical condition which has been reinjured at work. A pre-existing condition which has been substantially aggravated or accelerated by a work injury or even regular work activities, is still covered by workers’ compensation. It doesn’t matter if it is an injury to your back, neck, head, shoulder, knee or any other part of your body. It doesn’t matter if you need surgery or have previously had surgery. The issue is simply whether your work injury or activities have substantially contributed to your present condition. This is good news for people injured on the job but it usually still requires that you find an attorney to help you fight with the insurance company.

The burden of proof in a Minnesota work comp claim is on the employee. This means that, where a claim is denied or disputed, the employee must prove that the injury is covered under the work comp law. This is generally accomplished by filing a claim, obtaining a medical report which supports the connection between the work activities and the injury and then either taking the case to a hearing or reaching a settlement.

Conclusion

If this describes your situation or the situation of someone you know, then the initial step would be to consult with an attorney. Equally important is having a doctor who is willing to assist and support your claim in the dispute with an insurance company. Not every doctor is willing to take the time to review medical records and prepare a medical report at the request of your lawyer. That’s why it’s also very important to carefully select your treating physician in a work comp claim. For more information on this topic please see our previous post- Choosing a Doctor for Your Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Claim.

If you have been injured on the job and have questions about your claim or 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 about how much it costs to hire a lawyer for a Minnesota workers’ compensation case, you can check out this previous post.

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 the work comp system can make a big difference for you in your dealings with the insurance company. 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.

As always, thank you for visiting our blog and 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.

Avoiding Problems in Your Minnesota Work Comp Case

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.

Conclusion

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.

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.

Can I Get Minnesota Work Comp Benefits after a Layoff?

If you have ever been laid off from a job, either on a temporary basis or permanently, you know the gut-wrenching fear of suddenly being without a job and without income.  What will you do about house payments, truck payments, groceries, school expenses and tuition?  What about health insurance or other benefits that your employer may have provided?

Suddenly, you are scrambling to find other sources of income or ways to make ends meet. Obviously, you begin with a job search. You might also check into available benefits through unemployment or other sources.  At the end of the day, however, you are facing a major change in your life both personally and financially.  A possible benefit that most people tend to overlook might be workers’ compensation benefits.

Over the years, we have helped many people in northern Minnesota with work comp claims after they were permanently laid off following shutdowns or downsizing at LTV Steel, Potlatch and Blandin Paper, among other large employers.  Another large layoff has recently been announced for Boise Cascade in International Falls.

How Can I Get Work Comp Benefits after a Layoff?

There are several situations where you might be eligible for work comp benefits after you have been laid off from a job.  These situations might include if:

-You had a prior accepted work injury which resulted in surgery;

-You had work restrictions from a prior accepted work injury at the time of the layoff;

-You had a prior accepted work injury which requires additional medical care;

-You have a recent work injury that has not been reported;

-Your job duties right up until the date of the layoff have contributed to an injury or disabling condition;

The term “accepted work injury” means an injury that was reported to the employer and work comp insurer and was accepted, or admitted, by the work comp insurer as a work injury.  Typically, the insurance company would then pay medical bills or wage loss benefits depending upon the nature and extent of the injury.

If you had injuries during the years of your employment which were not reported or which were denied, the statute of limitations might prevent you from bringing claims at this time.  Consulting with an attorney would help you to establish whether it’s too late to file a claim.

You Had a Prior Accepted Work Injury Which Resulted in Surgery

If at some point during your employment you had a work injury and received work comp benefits, including surgery, you may have some ongoing claims.  If you had surgery, you may have been given a permanent partial disability rating (PPD), for which the insurance company paid you some money.  Or, maybe you have a PPD rating from a surgery and the insurance company never paid you – that claim is probably still available.

A prior surgery might also support a claim that you have ongoing restrictions related to the work injury, even if no formal restrictions were ever given to you by your treating physician.  Sometimes a friendly doctor will simply tell you to “take it easy” or “just do what you can”, without writing out specific restrictions on how much you can lift, how often you can bend, etc.  Your treating physician might be able to put some restrictions on you now, which would support a claim for wage loss benefits while you try to find a new job.  Under those circumstances, you may have a partial wage loss claim if you find another job which pays you less than you were earning when you were laid off.

You Had Work Restrictions from a Prior Accepted Work Injury at the Time of the Layoff

Even if you were working at full wage on the date of the layoff, if you had restrictions from a prior work injury, you might be able to claim partial wage loss benefits now if you find a new job that pays you less.  You may also be eligible for vocational rehabilitation services to help you find a new job.

You Had a Prior Accepted Work Injury Which Requires Additional Medical Care

In my twenty-nine years of experience handling work comp claims in northern Minnesota, I have seen many, many men and women who are “working hurt”.  These are people who suffered an admitted work injury and chose to go back to work without any formal work restrictions even though they were still suffering from back, neck, shoulder, knee, etc. pain and limitations.  Often, the work environment can be very intimidating for someone who claims an injury or needs work restrictions.  For that reason, many people simply tough it out and continue working to avoid being ridiculed by coworkers or supervisors.

However, if the medical records document that you had a legitimate work injury and there is current medical support for work restrictions, it may not be too late to file a claim for wage loss benefits now that you are laid off.  The key is to have solid medical support from a treating physician who will relate your ongoing difficulties to a work injury that was accepted at the time you reported it.

You Have a Recent Work Injury That Has Not Been Reported

If you have very recently suffered an injury at work but have not yet reported it to your employer, you should do so immediately. There are strict deadlines for actually reporting an injury once you are aware that it is related to your work activities.  If you fail to report the injury quickly enough, the claim might be barred forever.  Reporting an injury after a layoff will automatically be viewed suspiciously by the insurance company, but if you can prove that the injury is work related, you should definitely pursue it.

The notice of a work injury should be given in writing to a supervisor, human resources person or anyone else in a position of authority with the employer and should specifically state the nature of the injury and how it is related to your work.  You should also follow up right away with a doctor to document the nature of the injury and obtain treatment.

Your Job Duties Right up until the Date of the Layoff Have Contributed to an Injury or Disabling Condition

Not all work comp injuries are the result of one specific incident.  If you fall off a ladder and break your arm, that’s pretty clearly a work comp injury which occurred at a certain time on a certain date.  However, if your work activities over a period of time have gradually resulted in a painful or disabling medical condition, that can also be a work comp claim.  A good example might be someone who spends all day, everyday, bent over shoveling or lifting.  Eventually, that person develops back pain and requires medical care.  If his work activities contributed to the development of his disabling  back condition, that would be a repetitive injury work comp claim.  Another example might be someone who develops carpal tunnel syndrome from repetitive work activities involving the hands and wrists.  These types of claims are called repetitive, or Gillette injuries.  A Gillette injury can involve any body part which is subjected to repetitive stress in the course of employment.

The date of injury for a repetitive use  (Gillette)  injury, can be the first date you see a physician, the first day you become disabled or limited from the injury, or the last day you work, among other possible dates.  If you suspect that you have such a claim from your work activities, you should give written notice to your employer immediately, explaining that you have a medical condition which you believe is related to your work activities.  Again, follow-up with your physician right away and describe in detail what your job duties were and how they seemed to cause or increase your symptoms.

Deadlines and Other Limitations

As mentioned above, there are deadlines which apply to giving notice of an injury and there are additional deadlines for actually filing a work comp claim. If you had an injury at some point in the past that you didn’t report or which was denied, it may be too late to pursue any claims at this time. However, if you had an injury that was accepted by work comp, no matter how long ago, you may still have some benefits available to you, including wage loss, permanent impairment, medical or vocational rehabilitation and retraining.

There are also limitations or “caps” on certain types of benefits, so not all benefits would be available after a certain amount of time has gone by. Either way, it’s probably worth looking into now that you’ve  been laid off and will be looking for a new job.

Our Recommendation

If you have been laid off from a job and have a work related injury or disabling medical condition related to your work activities, consult with an experienced work comp attorney to see if you have any rights or claims available to you. You can be assured that the employer will not follow up with you after the layoff to remind you about any available work comp benefits.

We have been representing injured workers across all of northern Minnesota for nearly 30 years. You can contact us at any time for an absolutely free consultation.  We will always give you nothing but our honest opinion about your possible claims and will be happy to help you in any way that we can.  Call us with questions at any time.

Thank you for visiting our blog.

My Minnesota Work Comp Claim Was Denied. Now What?

So, you were injured on the job, filed an injury report and the claim has been denied by the work comp insurance company. What do you do next?

Simple. You should contact an attorney in your area who has experience in Minnesota work comp claims.  Why wouldn’t you? Most attorneys will not charge you to discuss the claim, answer your questions or even meet to review the facts and determine whether you have a case.  If you are in northern Minnesota and call us, I can promise you for certain that we won’t charge you for any of these things – ever.

There are a number of reasons the insurance company might give for denying your injury claim, including:

  • The injury didn’t  happen at work or in the course and scope of your employment;
  • You waited too long to report the injury or file a claim;
  • Your medical or physical problems are the result of a pre-existing problem;
  • You were not an “employee” as defined by the work comp laws in Minnesota;
  • There is no medical proof or support for your claimed injury;
  • Your injury was the result of your own intoxication;

There are many other defenses to a work comp claim but these are some common examples.  Sometimes the defense is valid and you don’t have a claim, but many other times the defense is bogus.  The insurance industry counts on the fact that a certain percentage of people will not pursue a claim after it has been denied.  Many people simply do not want to hire a lawyer or “make waves” with their employer.  Other people assume that if the claim is denied, the insurance company must be correct and there is no claim to pursue.  Or, it might just seem easier to let your health insurance company pay the medical bills and continue to work in pain every day.

None of these are good options if you truly believe that you were hurt on the job. Choosing to walk away from a potential work injury claim is simply a bad idea.  It benefits the insurance company by saving them money.  It hurts you if you have a legitimate claim that should be paid by work comp, not only now, but if you continue to have problems down the road with your current or a new employer. It only gets more difficult to prove a claim the longer you wait.

At the very least, it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney to see if you have a claim. Over the past 29 years handling work comp claims, I have spoken with hundreds, if not thousands, of people in your situation.  Their claim has been denied and they are intimidated by the insurance company or afraid to fight back.  Or, they are afraid that hiring a lawyer will cost them a lot of money that they don’t have. Sometimes my honest opinion is that there is no claim.  More often than not, however, people I speak with have legitimate claims that are definitely worth pursuing.

The insurance company has lawyers and experienced claims adjusters handling their cases.  They are well aware that many of the claims they deny are probably legitimate claims but the people will not pursue them.  They win, you lose.

Our Recommendation

If you have been injured on the job, or if you have a medical condition or disability which you believe was caused or aggravated by your work activities, immediately file a report of injury with your employer. If the claim is then denied or if you have any questions or concerns, contact us for an absolutely free consultation to discuss your rights and options.  You will always get our honest assessment and opinion about any possible claims.  If you decide to hire us, we only get paid if we win the case or recover benefits for you.

If you would like more information about how we get paid in a work comp case, or when you should consider hiring a lawyer, please see these earlier posts:

How much does it cost to hire a workers’ compensation lawyer in Minnesota?

When should I hire a lawyer for my Minnesota workers’ compensation claim?

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 for nearly 30 years.  If you’ve been injured, we can help.

Most Common Minnesota Work Injuries

According to a recent article in Compact, a publication of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, the number of injury and illness cases in Minnesota’s workplaces continued its long-term downward trend. The most recent occupational injury and illness figures show that during 2010, there were an estimated 76,700 recordable injury and illness cases; about 21,500 cases involved one or more days away from work. The comparable figures for 2009 were 78,100 total cases and 21,000 days-away-from-work cases. There were 70 work-related fatalities in 2010, an increase from 61 fatalities in 2009, but below the annual average of 73 fatalities for the 2005 to 2009 period. These statistics, and many more detailing injury and illness rates and workplace fatalities for 2010, are available in the recently updated Minnesota Workplace Safety Report  on the Department of Labor and Industry website.

Most Common Injuries

The report contains some very interesting information, including confirmation of what we have seen in our practice over the years with respect to the most common injuries. According to the report for 2010, the most commonly injured body parts in workers’ compensation cases were:

1. Back (not including the neck)
2. Multiple parts
3. Knee
4. Shoulder
5. Finger
6. Arm
7. Wrist
8. Ankle
9. Foot/toe
10. Hand/except finger

Report All Injuries

Any work injury, even those that appear to be minor, should be reported immediately. Very often, an injury that appeared to be no big deal when it happened, gradually turns into something more serious and may result in the need for medical care or lost time from work. For more information on The Risks of Not Reporting a Work Injury, see this previous post.

If you have been injured on the job and have some 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 about How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Lawyer for a Work Comp Case, you can check out  this previous post.

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. At Bradt Law Offices, we have been providing assistance to injured workers all across northern Minnesota and the Iron Range for nearly 30 years.

As always, thank you for visiting our blog and please spread the word that we are a  good source for work comp information for workers injured in northern Minnesota and anywhere on the Iron Range.