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.

What Should I Do If I Receive a Notice of Intention to Discontinue Benefits on My Minnesota Work Comp Claim?

At some point in almost any work comp claim where you are paid wage loss benefits, you will receive a Notice of Intention to Discontinue benefits, commonly referred to as an NOID. An NOID is simply a form which the insurer is required to serve and file whenever they will be discontinuing wage loss benefits. The form provides you with notice that your benefits will be ending at a certain time and explains the reason why.

Some reasons why you might receive an NOID form

1. You have returned to work. If you have been off work and receiving wage loss benefits from work comp, you have been receiving Temporary Total Disability (TTD) benefits. These benefits are paid at the rate of 2/3 of your average weekly wage on the date of injury. (For more information on TTD benefits, see our blog post here)

The notice tells you that the insurance company will be discontinuing those benefits because you are back to work and no longer entitled to TTD benefits. If you are returning to work, with restrictions from your injury but earning less than your preinjury wage, you may be entitled to partial wage loss benefits (TPD) and the NOID form should reflect that you will be paid TPD benefits upon returning to work. It doesn’t matter whether you are going back to work for the same employer or whether you have found a new job since the injury.

2. You have exhausted your TTD benefits. For dates of injury between 10/1/95 and 9/30/08, you are limited to 104 weeks of TTD benefits. This means that even if you are still out of work because of the injury, you cannot receive more than 104 weeks of TTD and your benefits will end. For injuries on or after 10/1/08, the maximum number of TTD benefits was increased from 104 to 130 weeks.

3. Your weekly earnings have reached or exceeded your preinjury wage. If you have been working at a wage loss and receiving TPD benefits, those benefits will end once you get back to your preinjury wage, because you no longer have a wage loss.

4. You have reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI). If you are receiving TTD benefits, those benefits will end 90 days after you are provided with notice that you have reached MMI. An MMI opinion can come from one of your treating physicians or from a doctor who has examined you for the insurance company (this is called an Independent Medical Exam (IME), more information about an IME can be found here). The explanation for why your benefits are being discontinued must be included on the NOID form.

5. You no longer have work restrictions. If your treating physician, or the IME doctor, gives an opinion that you have no work restrictions as a result of the work injury, you are no longer eligible for wage loss benefits. Most often, this occurs following an IME where the insurance company doctor writes a report and gives the opinion that you have fully recovered from the work injury or that any restrictions you have are not related to the work injury. Sometimes, your own doctor may lift all restrictions without fully understanding how this might affect your claim. (For more information about choosing a physician for a work comp claim, click here).

What you can do if you receive an NOID

Your options after receiving an NOID are explained on the form and will depend upon the reasons for the discontinuance. If you disagree with the discontinuance of benefits or the reasons given, you can request a telephone conference with a work comp judge to argue your position. The time frame to dispute a discontinuance if you want an immediate conference is generally 12 days. The NOID form provides you with a phone number and address and explains how to request the conference.

If you have an attorney, you should obviously make sure that he or she has received a copy of the NOID form and will be requesting a conference on your behalf if you disagree with the discontinuance of your benefits. If you don’t have an attorney, this would be a very good time to contact one. At the discontinuance conference, the insurance company will be represented by either a claims adjuster or an attorney. The discontinuance of your benefits is a serious matter and you should have an experienced work comp attorney representing you at that conference.

If you win at the conference and the judge agrees that your benefits should not be discontinued, the insurance company may appeal but they will have to continue paying your benefits until a formal hearing is scheduled. However, if you lose at the conference, you may appeal but you will not receive any benefits while you wait for the formal hearing and a decision. Having an attorney represent you at the initial conference will generally give you a much better chance to win.

There are some other reasons why your benefits might be discontinued, but these are the most common situations that we typically see.

Contact Us If You Have Questions about Your Claim

If you have been injured on the job and have questions about the Minnesota work comp system, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. You can contact us anytime, with questions about your case or to arrange an absolutely free consultation. It won’t cost you anything and we will always give you our honest assessment about whether you need a lawyer to represent you. If you have questions or concerns about the cost of hiring an attorney, you can check out this previous post- How much does it cost to hire a workers’ compensation lawyer in Minnesota?

At Bradt Law Offices, we have been providing assistance to injured workers all across northern Minnesota and the Iron Range for more than 32 years.

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

Beware of a New Attack on Benefits for Injured Workers

It’s  bad enough that state legislatures, including ours right here in Minnesota, have chipped away at the rights and benefits of injured workers over the past 30 years. Now, some states are getting rid of workers’ compensation altogether and creating their own systems for compensating workers injured on the job. The argument made by business owners is, of course, that this is good for the injured working man or woman. Don’t believe it. If it’s being proposed by business you can bet that the motivation is strictly the bottom line – employers save money and the injured worker loses rights and benefits.

For more details about this scary prospect and how it is happening in other states, click on the link to read this excellent article : Inside Corporate America’s Campaign to Ditch Workers’ Comp.

As a work comp attorney representing injured workers for more than 30 years here in northern Minnesota, I find this to be a very scary development. If it is being pushed through in other states, you can be assured that it may eventually be tried here. Please feel free to share this article with anyone you feel might be interested.

Thank you for visiting our blog and please feel free to contact us at any time if you have questions about a work comp claim or would like to set up a free consultation to discuss your rights if you’ve been injured on the job in Minnesota.

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.

The Risks of Not Reporting a Work Injury in Minnesota

A work injury can happen to anyone, at any time.  Injuries happen to people on the first day of a new job or after 20 years of injury-free employment.  There just isn’t any rhyme or reason to when an injury occurs.

An injury can be as trivial as a sprained thumb or as serious as a broken bone or spinal cord injury.  An injury may result in a few hours of discomfort or weeks to months of disability and lost time from work.  A serious injury resulting in medical care and lost time from work is a “no-brainer” when it comes to whether or not it should be reported.  In fact, in many cases, it doesn’t need to be reported because it was probably witnessed by coworkers or supervisors.  Those types of claims get filed, benefits are paid and the injured worker is “in the system” by no choice of his own and without any real options.

But what about the less serious injury that allows you to keep working?  How about an injury that requires a visit to the doctor but no lost time from work?  Or, what about that minor twinge you felt in your low back a few weeks ago that you barely noticed but is now becoming a more serious problem?

These are the types of injuries that many people, for a variety of reasons, choose not to report to their employer.  This topic comes to mind because I am convinced that the current scary economy is causing a lot of people to “work hurt”, without reporting work injuries.  You know who you are – you injured your back, neck, shoulder, knee – whatever – a few weeks or months ago but you haven’t turned in an injury claim.  You’re hoping that it will just get better, but it hasn’t.  You’re afraid that if you turn in the claim you might lose your job.  Or, if you go off work on comp, your job won’t be there for you after you’ve healed. So, you are one of many, many people who are “working hurt”.

What are the risks of not reporting a work injury?

Probably the biggest risk is that the injury may become more serious and it will then be too late to prove that it is a work comp claim.  For example, if you don’t turn in an injury report and six months or a year later you need surgery and are facing a prolonged period of disability, you may have a very difficult time establishing a work comp claim.  The insurance company will claim that you failed to give proper notice and that its now too late to file a claim..  The insurance company will also claim that you cannot prove your problems are related to an incident which occurred six months ago that you didn’t report.  Another problem will arise if you weren’t telling your doctor the whole story and there is nothing in your medical records about the injury happening at work.

While you may have health insurance to cover most of the medical bills, you will not be able to receive wage loss benefits, vocational rehabilitation assistance or reimbursement of your medical mileage.  These are all benefits which are provided under workers’ compensation.

What should you do if you get hurt at work and are afraid to report the injury?

My recommendation would be to contact an experienced work comp attorney.  A little information goes a long way in the work comp system. Most attorneys will provide you with a free initial consultation concerning your claim.  Once you understand your options, you can then make an informed decision about whether to report the injury or not.  It sounds like a simple solution, and it is.  Get some information about your potential claim and then make a decision.

For additional information on this topic, here are a couple of previous posts or other references:

Workers’ Compensation Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Get Fired for Filing a Work Comp Claim?

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

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.