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.

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.

Types of Settlements in Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Claims

Each day I take a few minutes to review the statistics for this blog to find out how many people are visiting and what type of search terms they are using to find us.  The overwhelming number of searches that bring people here involve questions regarding settlements.  I have previously written posts entitled:

When Do You Get a Work Comp Settlement in Minnesota, and

How Much Can I Receive for Minnesota Work Comp Settlement

Based upon what I have seen readers searching for, this seemed like a good time to write another post discussing the types of settlements you might receive in a Minnesota work comp claim.  I won’t go into details from the other posts regarding the timing of a settlement and how claims are valued for settlement purposes.  In this post, I will discuss the most common types of settlements that I have seen in my practice, handling work comp claims in northern Minnesota over the past 29 years.

To- Date  Settlement

A “to-date” settlement is just what it suggests.  It represents a settlement of disputed claims only through the date of the settlement agreement.  The dispute might involve medical issues, wage loss benefits, vocational rehabilitation issues or any combination of work comp benefits.  The claims might be disputed because the insurance company has denied primary liability or the dispute might revolve around differing opinions between treating physicians or the insurance company doctor. There are always plenty of things for an insurance company to fight about.

Regardless of the dispute, the parties agree to settle the claim only through the date that the agreement is reached.  The settlement may involve payment of some amount of disputed wage loss benefits or it might simply be an agreement to provide medical care or approve surgery.  A Stipulation for Settlement will be prepared, signed by the parties and submitted to a compensation judge for approval.  Once approved, the disputed issues are settled but no future claims are compromised, limited or surrendered.

In my experience, these types of settlements don’t occur all that often, primarily because the insurance company usually wants to close all claims completely when they make a settlement.  However, under certain circumstances a to-date settlement might be in everyone’s best interest.

Full, Final and Complete  Settlement with Future Medical Claims Left Open

This is probably the most common type of settlement.  Again, the dispute between you and the insurance company might involve one or many issues.  Perhaps the insurance company is attempting to discontinue your wage loss benefits, has denied your claim for vocational retraining or simply wants to pay you a lump sum to close your file and be done with you.  In its most common form, this type of settlement means that, for an agreed-upon lump sum payment, you have closed out, or given up, all future claims for any type of work comp benefits relating to your injury, except medical coverage or treatment.  If you can agree with the insurance company on a dollar amount and the appropriate terms, a Stipulation for Settlement is prepared, signed and submitted to a judge for approval.  The judge can refuse to approve the settlement for a number of reasons, although such refusal is extremely rare, particularly where both parties are represented by experienced attorneys.

It is also important to note that when we say you are closing out all claims, we are only speaking about claims related to the specific work injury you are presently claiming.  You cannot close out future claims related to injuries you haven’t had yet or don’t know about.

Full, Final and Complete  Settlement with Some Future Medical Claims Left Open, Some Closed

In this type of settlement, you would settle your claim on a lump sum basis and only limited future medical coverage would remain open with respect to the claimed injury.  Under the terms of this type of settlement, the parties will negotiate a closeout of certain, specific, future medical coverages.  A common example would be the insurance company’s request for a closeout of future acupuncture or acupressure expenses, health club memberships, massage therapy or other types of passive treatment.  The insurance company does not want to end up paying for this type of treatment after a settlement or, worse, fighting over this treatment with you and your lawyer and having to pay for the treatment and your lawyer’s attorney fees.

You would still be covered by the work comp insurance company for all other future medical treatment, such as doctor appointments, physical therapy, surgery, injections, MRIs, etc.  Basically, anything that is not specifically closed out remains available to you, subject to the work comp laws.  The insurance company can still challenge future medical bills and make you prove that the treatment is reasonable, necessary and related to your work injury.  Leaving future medical coverage “open” doesn’t  necessarily mean the insurance company has to pay every medical bill you ever submit for the rest of your life without challenge.

Some other common future medical benefits which are sometimes closed out are chiropractic expenses, pain clinic programs, psychological or psychiatric coverage.  All of these types of treatment or therapy are ordinarily covered under the work comp law and would be theoretically available to you after a settlement if you don’t specifically agree to close them out.  The insurance company cannot force you to close these future claims out, but often makes this a term of the settlement they are proposing.  In other words, they won’t pay the settlement money unless you agree to these terms.  Whether or not to close out any future medical benefits as part of a settlement is a decision you and your lawyer will have to make based upon all of the facts and circumstances of your particular claim and medical condition.

Full, Final and Complete  Settlement with All Future Medical Claims Closed

This is a rare type of settlement and most often occurs where the insurance company has denied the entire claim right from the beginning.  In other words, the insurance company has denied “primary liability”, and has raised one of many possible defenses to the claim.  They may be claiming that the injury is not covered by work comp, didn’t  happen on the job, is a pre-existing condition or was caused by your intoxication or horseplay.  For whatever reason, the insurer will not accept the claim or pay any benefits voluntarily.  Depending upon the medical or other evidence, the insurance company may still be willing to pay a settlement in order to avoid the risk of trial.  You may be willing to do the same.

Under those circumstances, an agreement might be reached for a lump sum payment which closes out all work comp claims relating to the injury, including future medical.  Like any other settlement, it must be approved by a compensation judge.  However, where there is a denial of primary liability and a possibility that you could end up with nothing if the case went to a trial, a compensation judge is generally going to approve such a settlement.

Structured  Settlements

While not very common, sometimes an insurance company will offer a structured settlement instead of a single lump sum. This more often occurs where the injured worker is a younger person and has a potentially large claim into the future.  The terms  would be the same as one of the settlements listed above, but instead of a single lump sum, the payment might be in the form of a structured settlement or an annuity, paid out over time in regular installments.

Summary

Every case is different and these are just the most common types of work comp settlements that I have negotiated over the years.  There are other, less common types of settlements, which might be negotiated depending on the circumstances of a particular case.  If you have a work injury claim and the insurance company wants to make a settlement, please take the time to contact an experienced attorney before you make a settlement. The insurance company hires attorneys and claims adjusters to protect their interests.  Why wouldn’t you do the same?

If you have any questions about a work comp claim, a settlement offer or any other issues relating to work comp,  please feel to contact me at any time with your questions.  I would be happy to arrange to meet with you for an absolutely free consultation at your convenience. You will always get my honest assessment of your claim and my advice as to whether you need a lawyer.

Thank you for visiting our blog.  At Bradt Law Offices, we have been representing injured workers all across beautiful northern Minnesota and the Iron Range for nearly 30 years.  If you have found this information helpful, please share this site with your friends or neighbors  who might have workers’ compensation questions or problems.

Bradt Law Offices Video

Steve Bradt introduces himself and talks about his northern Minnesota law practice in this video

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.