How Long Does a Minnesota Work Comp Claim Stay Open?

A few times each year I get calls from people with questions about an old Minnesota work comp claim. Most often, they have either had some type of flareup or progressively worsening symptoms from a work injury which had occurred several years in the past. The questions usually relate to whether the insurance company is still responsible to pay medical bills or other benefits.

There is no simple answer to this type of question but there are some general guidelines which might be helpful. The facts of each case are always different and whether your claim is still “open” will depend on some of these factors:

Was the Original Injury Reported to the Employer and Accepted by the Work Comp Insurer?  This is the starting point for determining whether the claim is still open or whether any ongoing benefits are available. When a work injury claim is reported to your employer’s work comp insurer, the insurer will decide whether to accept or deny the claim. Soon after reporting the injury you should receive a form from the insurance company entitled Notice of Insurer’s Primary Liability Determination. The form will tell you if the claim is accepted or denied and should also provide the basis for any denial.

If the claim is accepted, you may be eligible for various types of benefits under the work comp system, including wage loss, medical benefits and vocational rehabilitation services. The insurer can still fight with you or deny various types of benefits for any number of reasons, but if the claim is accepted a major battle is eliminated right at the beginning of your claim.

If the claim is denied by the insurer, you must formally file a Claim Petition with the Department of Labor and Industry-Workers’ Compensation Division before the statute of limitation (deadline) expires, or the claim is barred forever. If you have had a claim denied by a work comp insurer my recommendation would be to contact an experienced work comp attorney immediately to see what statute of limitation or deadline might apply to your case. If you wait too long, you will lose all workers’ compensation rights related to the injury.

Assuming that your claim has been accepted by the work comp insurer, these are some of the other issues which help determine whether you have any remaining benefits available:

Did You Make a Settlement?  Many work comp claims in Minnesota ultimately result in a settlement of some type. If you reached a settlement in your case, with or without an attorney, the settlement terms will generally be set forth in a document called a “Stipulation for Settlement” which is signed by the parties and approved by a workers’ compensation judge. A settlement can resolve some, or all claims related to an injury.

Frequently, a settlement will close out all future claims in exchange for a lump sum payment, but will leave open future medical expenses related to your injury. In other cases, a settlement closes all future claims, including future medical. Under the terms of that type of settlement you would not have any remaining benefits available to you from the original work injury. (For more information, see Types of Settlements in Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Claims)

Have You Been to a Hearing Before a Work Comp Judge?  If there were disputed issues in your case you may have ended up at a work comp hearing where the issues were decided by a judge. The judge’s decision may affect what benefits are available to you in the future. If you were represented by an attorney, he or she should be able to explain what potential benefits remain available to you.

How Long Ago Was Your Injury?  There have been significant changes to Minnesota’s work comp laws over the past 30 + years, particularly in 1984, 1992 and 1995. As a general rule, the law in effect on the date of your injury will control what benefits are available to you. Over the years, there have been limits or caps imposed on wage loss, medical and vocational rehabilitation, so the date of your injury is a very important factor to consider when evaluating what benefits may be available on your claim.

Were You Ever Given a Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) rating?  A PPD rating is usually given by your surgeon or treating physician upon completion of your treatment or recovery from your injury. If you qualify for a rating under the disability schedules, the doctor provides the applicable percentage (%) rating from the schedules and you are entitled to be compensated by the insurer based upon that percentage. Not every injury results in a ratable disability but if you had surgery or have permanent restrictions or symptoms, you may qualify. This benefit is often overlooked and not paid, particularly if the injured worker did not have an attorney providing guidance. (For more information on this subject, please check out our previous post explaining Permanent Partial Disability Ratings)

Have you had a new injury or aggravation? Let’s say you had a back injury in 1998 which was accepted by the work comp insurer and you received wage loss and medical benefits following the injury. Assuming you went back to work at some point and are now having low back problems again, the original insurer is not likely to resume payment of medical or other benefits without some updated information from you, such as:

-Do your current problems involve the same part of your back that was injured in 1998?

-Have you had any new back injuries since 1998 (work injuries, car accidents, slip and falls, etc)?

-Have your work activities since 1998 aggravated or accelerated your back problems?  (if so, you might have a new work comp claim  against your current employer. For more information about a gradual, repetitive injury claim see our previous article here)

-Have you been getting regular medical care over the years for your back and do the medical records support your claim that the problems are related to the 1998 injury?

There are many other factors which may affect whether you have any claims remaining from an old work comp injury. These are just a few of the considerations that might come into play. If you have questions about an old injury claim and were represented by an attorney, you should start by contacting the attorney’s office to see if they still have your file or could provide you with documents or information. If that’s not an option or if you did not have an attorney, we would be happy to offer a free consultation to answer your questions and provide whatever guidance that we can. Some helpful information for you to gather before any consultation would be the date of injury, name of the work comp insurer and copies of any settlements or other legal decisions relating to your claim.

Thank you for visiting our blog. At Bradt Law Offices, we have been providing assistance to injured workers all across northern Minnesota and the Iron Range for more than 33 years. If you found this information helpful, please spread the word that we are a good source of work comp information and assistance for workers injured in northern Minnesota and anywhere on the Iron Range.

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.

What Is a Repetitive or Gillette Work Injury in Minnesota?

One of the more confusing issues in a Minnesota work comp claim is what constitutes an “injury”.   If you fall off a ladder and break your arm while at work, we would all agree that you had a work injury.  If you wrenched your back lifting a heavy box at work –  again, that is pretty clearly a work injury.

But what if you are pretty sure your sore back (or knees, neck, shoulder, etc) was caused by your job duties but you never had a specific work injury?  Are you still covered by workers’ compensation?  The short answer is YES, but you may have to prove it if the insurance company denies your claim.

Over the years I have had many, many clients tell me they had no idea they had a work comp claim because they had never suffered a specific injury.  I have met with people who have undergone major back surgeries and never knew the claim could be turned in to work comp.  The same goes for shoulder injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, neck injuries, worn-out knees, hips, ankles and a number of other conditions which can be very painful and disabling.

These are referred to as “repetitive work injuries” or Gillette injuries.  The term repetitive work injury simply means that your medical or disabling condition occurred gradually over time, instead of from a specific, single incident.  They are also called “Gillette injuries”, because of a 1960 Minnesota Supreme Court case, Gillette v. Harold, Inc, which decided that work injuries can occur as a result of repetitive or cumulative “minor trauma” caused by performing ordinary job duties.

What should you do if you have an injury or medical condition which you think might have been caused by your work activities?

The first thing you should do is notify your employer, by filling out an injury or incident report.  If you fail to do so, the work comp insurance company may have a defense to the claim later on, by claiming that you did not give notice of your injury or condition, even when you realized it was probably related to your work activities.

The second thing you should do is see your doctor or chiropractor and explain in detail how you believe your problems are related to your work activities.  For example, if your job involves a lot of lifting, twisting and bending which seems to give you low back pain, make sure you tell your medical provider.  If it doesn’t show up in the medical records, it may be difficult for you to prove your claim later on.

Some examples of repetitive or Gillette injuries

A very common claim is a back or neck injury caused by physically demanding labor such as heavy lifting, frequent bending, twisting or working in awkward positions.  The problem may start as just an occasional sore back but gradually worsen over time.  Ultimately, you may end up unable to work and needing significant medical care and treatment, possibly even surgery.  (See our case report for a good example)

Another typical claim would be where someone develops carpal tunnel syndrome or elbow problems from repetitive activities involving the use of the hands and arms.  We have seen this type of injury in our clients who do repetitive gripping, grasping, twisting activities and gradually develop pain or soreness in the hands and arms.  (See another case report for this type of claim)

These are only two common examples.  We have also represented people who suffered gradually occurring injuries to knees, ankles, hips, shoulders and other body parts from physically demanding, repetitive jobs. . There are nearly as many examples of repetitive injury claims as there are types of jobs.

Are work comp benefits different for repetitive injuries?

No.  An injury is an injury, no matter whether it was specific or repetitive.  You are entitled to exactly the same wage loss, medical and vocational benefits under Minnesota work comp laws, no matter what type of injury you have.  The only real difference is that repetitive injuries can be more difficult to prove and easier for the insurance company to deny.

What we recommend

If you suspect that your work activities are causing, or aggravating, a medical condition which affects your ability to work, feel free to contact us for your absolutely free consultation.  Whether or not you have already given notice to your employer, we are happy to answer any questions you might have and give you our opinion about whether you might need a lawyer.  If you have given your employer notice of a potential injury claim and have had no response from the work comp insurance company in more than 30 days, that would also be a good time to contact us for more information about your options.  If your claim is denied, proving a repetitive injury claim can be tricky and requires the strong support of your treating doctor.

Workers’ compensation insurance companies  (like all insurance companies) don’t pay anything more then they absolutely have to.  If you don’t make a claim, they won’t even know about it.  If you give notice of a repetitive injury claim they may simply ignore it and hope that you go away– and a lot of injured people do.  A little bit of information can be very helpful to you in deciding whether to pursue a claim or hire a lawyer.  Contact us anytime and let us help.

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

Bradt Law Offices Case Report: Repetitive Thumb Injury and Surgery

Type of Case:   Workers’ Compensation

Legal Issue or Dispute:  Denial of claim for a repetitive thumb injury requiring surgery

Facts:   Our client worked for a large healthcare provider in northern Minnesota.  His job duties over many years involved repetitive work with his hands and thumbs. He developed a condition which required a significant hand surgery and the workers’ compensation insurer denied the claim.  They sent our client to an orthopedic surgeon for an independent medical exam (often referred to as an IME), who gave the opinion that our client’s problems were hereditary and unrelated to his work activities.  The case was scheduled for trial before a workers’ compensation judge in Duluth.

Result:   We obtained a medical report from the treating surgeon which stated that our client’s work activities were a substantial contributing cause of the development of his problems. Shortly before trial, we took the deposition of the insurance company’s doctor.  In his deposition under oath, he was forced to admit that  (1) there was no documented medical basis for his opinions regarding the hereditary factors he relied on for his opinions,  (2) there were no medical studies to support his opinions, and  (3) he had no special training or knowledge of genetics.

Less than one week before the scheduled trial, the insurance company accepted the claim in full, agreed to pay for our client’s surgery and paid him wage loss benefits while he was off work.  The insurance company was also required to pay our attorney fees for obtaining the surgical approval and wage loss benefits.