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.

How Much Can I Receive for a Minnesota Work Comp Settlement?

Although there is no single or simple answer to this question, I have posted it because this is one of the most common search requests I see from people visiting our blog.  Every day, I see search requests which involve some form of the question:  how much is a work comp settlement in Minnesota?

It is perfectly understandable to wonder if you will receive a settlement for your claim and how much it might be.  After all, we all know someone who has settled a work comp claim, or we have heard rumors about how much someone received for an injury claim.  Now that you have been injured and are “in the system”, you probably have the same questions and concerns.

In a previous blog post, I discussed when, or if, you might get a settlement in a Minnesota work comp case.  I explained that a “settlement” is not a guaranteed part of every claim.  (See this previous post, When Do You Get a Work Comp Settlement in Minnesota?)  In today’s  post, I will discuss how a claim is valued for settlement purposes.

As I pointed out in my earlier post, not every case results in a settlement.   In addition, every settlement is different, based upon a variety of factors which will be different in every case.  The only way to put a value on your individual case, is to look at all of the factors which affect how much the insurance company might be willing to pay to settle your claim.  Some of the factors considered are:

Average Weekly Wage and Compensation Rate.  Every claim starts with the basic determination of your average weekly wage on the date of injury. Any wage loss benefits you are paid after that are based upon the average weekly wage.  The higher your average weekly wage, the more value your claim will probably have.  It stands to reason that if the insurance company is paying you wage loss benefits at the maximum rate of $850 per week, your claim has more value than someone who was working part-time at minimum wage and is receiving work comp benefits of $175 per week.

How Many Weeks Have You Been Paid and How Many Do You Have Remaining?  There are limits on the number of weeks that you can receive certain benefits.  Temporary Total Disability (TTD) benefits are limited to 130 weeks (104 weeks for injuries occurring before 10/1/08). Temporary Partial Disability (TPD) benefits are limited to 225 weeks and are not available if more than 450 weeks have elapsed since your date of injury.

Keep in mind that these are not guaranteed weeks of wage loss benefits.  Your benefits might end long before 130 or 225 weeks, for a variety of reasons – these are simply the maximum number of weeks you can receive.  So, if the insurance company has already paid you most of the available weeks of benefits you can receive, they don’t have much exposure in terms of future benefits.  Or, if your weekly wage loss benefits are about to end for some other reason, your claim may have limited value for settlement purposes.

On the other hand, if you have only been paid a few weeks and it appears that you will be eligible for long-term, ongoing wage loss benefits, then your claim would have significantly more value.

How Serious Was Your Injury and What Are Your Restrictions?  If you are permanently unable to return to a high-paying job, your claim has more value.  The insurance company will likely be paying you weekly wage loss benefits for many months.  Or, they may realize that you need vocational retraining, which can also be very expensive.  Your claim would have more value under those circumstances.

On the other hand, if your injury is only temporary and you can return to your previous job at your regular wage, the insurance company may not consider the claim as having long-term financial exposure.  They may simply wait for you to return to work at full wage and just pay future medical expenses related to your injury, without wanting to make any type of settlement.

How Strong or Weak Is Your Claim?  Has your entire claim been denied by the work comp insurance company?  If so, they may be willing to take their chances at a hearing.  If the insurance company wins, they don’t have to pay you anything.

In a medical dispute, the strength or weakness of the medical evidence is a key factor.  If you have a strong, supportive medical report from your doctor, your claim will have more value than if you have weak medical evidence.

What Issues Are Being Disputed?  If the only dispute is over a small medical bill or a few weeks of wage loss benefits, the claim probably won’t have much value.  If the dispute involves Permanent Total Disability (PTD) or retraining, the insurance company is looking at a lot more exposure for future benefits and the claim will have more value, assuming you have a strong claim based upon solid medical and vocational evidence.

How Old Are You, How Disabled Are You and What Are Your Plans for the Future?   If you are a younger person with a serious injury, a high wage  and plans to work for many more years, you might have a claim that could cost the insurance company a lot of money.  Those types of claims, if supported by strong medical evidence, can result in significant settlements.  On the other hand, if you are near retirement age, are only temporarily disabled or have a minor injury, your claim will be valued much differently.

These are only some of the factors that are considered when trying to put a value on a claim if the insurance company wants to make a settlement. There can be other factors that come into play, including previous injuries or pre-existing conditions, credibility issues, your cooperation with vocational rehabilitation, the quality of any job search you might have done and many others.

What We Recommend

If the insurance company proposes a settlement of your work comp claim, you should immediately contact an experienced attorney for advice or representation.  A claims adjuster or defense attorney will have far more experience than you in evaluating the claim.  Obviously, they will try to settle your claim as cheaply as possible.  Even though a settlement must be approved by a work comp judge, the judge does not represent you and cannot give you any advice about whether it is a fair settlement.

If you have any questions about your work injury claim, whether it involves a settlement or anything else, feel free to contact me at Bradt Law Offices anytime, with any questions.  We can talk about your claim on the phone or we can make an appointment to meet – either way it is an absolutely free consultation.  We can meet in my Grand Rapids office or wherever it would be convenient for you.

I  have been representing your friends and neighbors in their work comp claims all across northeastern Minnesota for nearly 30 years.  If you’ve been injured, we can help.

Thank you for visiting our blog.

How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer in Minnesota?

Let’s face it, nobody likes the thought of having to hire a lawyer.  The very idea of calling a lawyer or making an appointment can be very stressful. If you are like most people,  you’ve never needed to hire a lawyer and have no idea what’s involved.  You probably have a number of questions and concerns, but for most people, the # 1 question is:  “How much will it cost  (or, how do I pay a work comp lawyer)?”

In Minnesota, hiring a workers’ compensation lawyer is actually fairly painless.  In a nutshell, we only get paid if we are successful.  I can’t speak for other law firms, but at Bradt Law Offices, we don’t ask for any money up front to cover costs or expenses and you’ll never receive a bill from us. It costs you nothing to hire us and we only get paid if we recover benefits for you.

Attorney Fees Are Set by Law

Not only do we only get paid if we win, but our fees are controlled by law and are the same for every lawyer in every Minnesota work comp case. Attorney fees are 25% of the first $4000 we recover for you, and then 20% after that.  The maximum automatic fee under this formula is $13,000 for each date of injury.  In the majority of cases, attorney fees never come close to $13,000.   In some cases, however, we may receive total fees in excess of $13,000 where there are multiple disputes, prolonged and ongoing litigation or where our client receives a substantial amount of benefits or a large settlement.  We never request fees in excess of $13,000 without our clients’ agreement and understanding.

Situations Where We Might Receive a Fee from Your Benefits 

Attorney fees are only paid from disputed  benefits.  If you hire us and are already receiving wage loss benefits, we do not start taking a percentage of those benefits because we didn’t get them for you.   We would represent you from that point forward on any other issues that may come up during the course of your claim.  In fact, we sometimes open and close a file without earning any attorney fees because no disputes ever arise.  These are examples of some common situations where you might pay attorney fees out of benefits you receive:

  • Your claim is denied and we get benefits for you, either by settlement or after a trial
  • Your benefits are discontinued and we get them reinstated
  • The insurance company is underpaying you and we get your benefits increased
  • We negotiate a settlement of your claim

Some Attorney Fees Are Paid by the Insurance Company

Not every dispute in a work comp claim involves money payable to you.  For example, the insurance company may be voluntarily paying your wage loss benefits but refusing to approve surgery, an MRI or a referral to a medical specialist.  This would be strictly a medical dispute.  If we file a claim for the disputed medical issues and win, the insurance company will pay our attorney fees, not you.

Or, if there is a dispute involving a QRC or vocational rehabilitation issues and we win, the insurance company will again have to pay our fees, because we aren’t putting any money in your pocket.  Wherever possible, we  always try to get the insurance company to pay our fees.

Free Consultation Over the Phone or in Person

At Bradt Law Offices,  you can call us anytime with questions about your claim or to see if you might need a lawyer.  If you prefer, we can make an appointment to meet in our office, in the hospital or at your home to discuss your case.  We will explain the work comp system , what benefits you might be entitled to and whether or not you need a lawyer.  There is never a charge for this service or information.

What we recommend

Don’t be afraid to call a lawyer if you have questions about a work comp claim or feel that you’re not being treated fairly by the insurance company.  At Bradt Law Offices, we speak with people all the time who simply have questions about a claim but don’t necessarily need an attorney.  We are happy to help in any way we can and, very often, people we speak with later end up hiring us when a dispute arises on their claim.

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Choosing a QRC for Your Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Case

Let’s say you have been hurt on the job, are receiving work comp benefits, treating with a doctor and hoping to get back to work as soon as possible.  However, you may have work restrictions which prevent you from returning to your regular job, at least for the time being.

You receive a phone call from a woman (or man) who tells you that she has been assigned to serve as your “QRC”.   QR what?   Immediately, a few questions come to mind, such as:

   What the heck is a QRC?

   Who assigned this QRC to me and why?

   What will a QRC do for me?

   Do I have any choice in selecting a QRC?

Let’s take the questions one at a time.

What the heck is a QRC?   A QRC is a Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant, approved by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. A QRC provides vocational rehabilitation services to eligible injured workers within the framework of Minnesota’s workers’ compensation system.  In a nutshell, the job of a QRC is to help you get back to work at your previous job and previous wage as fast as possible.  Unfortunately, because of significant physical restrictions, economic factors or other issues, that’s not always possible.  If you are unable to return to your previous job, the QRC will assist you in finding another job, within whatever physical limitations you might have, at a wage as close as possible to what you were earning before you were injured.

Who assigned this QRC to me and why?   If you don’t have an attorney representing you, the QRC was probably assigned to you by the claims adjuster handling your file for the workers’ compensation insurance company.  Most work comp insurance companies have a relatively “short list” of QRC’s that they regularly use.  The QRC chosen for your particular case may be assigned based upon where you live and where the QRC has an office.  Or, the insurance company might choose a QRC who has experience with particular types of injuries or disabilities.  More likely, the insurance company will simply choose a QRC with whom they are comfortable and who they know may get your rehabilitation file closed quickly and cheaply (that would be the cynical, employee’s attorney viewpoint).

What will a QRC do for me?   A QRC might provide a variety of services.  In a simple case, the QRC might accompany you to a doctor’s appointment to get clarification of your work restrictions.  The QRC might then communicate with your employer to help you get back to work as soon as possible within those restrictions.  In other cases, where it isn’t possible to return to your job,  the QRC might assist you with a job search to help you find new employment.  Less often, it may even be necessary for the QRC to explore and assist you with retraining options in order to get you back to full employment.  Each case is different and you can find more information about QRC’s at the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry website here.

Do I have any choice in selecting a QRC?   Actually, you do.  If the insurance company assigns you a QRC, you  have 60 days to either accept or reject that QRC.  At any time within those 60 days you can simply advise the insurance company that you would prefer to select your own QRC. You don’t need to give a reason and the insurance company cannot refuse your request.  If you have an attorney representing you before a QRC is assigned or before the initial 60 days have passed, chances are that your attorney will have a number of QRC’s from which to choose.

The problem arises where you don’t have an attorney and the insurance company assigns you a QRC.  Unless you’ve been through the workers’ compensation system with a previous claim and a QRC  (or unless one of your relatives is a QRC),  you probably won’t have any idea where to even find another QRC, let alone one that you would trust with your case.

Now we’re not suggesting that a QRC assigned by the insurance company is a bad person or a bad QRC.  Not at all.  However, a workers’ compensation case is a very important matter in your life.  We simply prefer that our client’s,  not the insurance company,  select the people who provide care and services in their claims, whether a treating doctor, chiropractor, surgeon…. or QRC.

What We Suggest

The minute that the insurance company assigns you a QRC, it would be a good idea to contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for a consultation about your claim. You don’t necessarily need to hire an attorney at that point, but many lawyers can give you the names of some QRC’s that we regularly use and would recommend.  You may end up hiring a lawyer eventually, but it can be very helpful to have a your choice of a good, trusted QRC on board from the beginning of your claim.

If you have any questions about QRC’s, vocational rehabilitation or any other aspect of your claim, feel free to give us a call anytime for a free consultation at Bradt Law Offices.

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