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Understanding Workers’ Compensation Matters: Some Frequently Asked Questions

At the law firm of Quinlivan & Hughes, PA, we have been dedicated to providing our clients with experienced and highly-skilled workers’ compensation representation for more than 35 years. To ensure that your best interests are protected and that you obtain the results you deserve, the firm’s workers’ compensation attorneys do everything possible to effectively guide you through the complex Minnesota workers’ compensation laws.

When you suffer from a work-related injury at your place of employment, Minnesota law provides that you are entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits to help pay for medical expenses, lost wages, and permanent disability. Whether your job requires heavy lifting or you were accidentally injured by a third party while performing work for your employer, you have every right to receive Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits. If you have suffered a work-related injury, you have no time to waste. The attorneys at Quinlivan & Hughes have the knowledge and skill to resolve your claim in a timely manner. If you have been injured at work, we can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call us at (320) 251-1414 to speak with a workers’ compensation lawyer today.

1. What is workers’ compensation in Minnesota?

Answer: Workers’ compensation came into existence in 1913. Prior to that date, there was no workers’ compensation law in Minnesota. If you were hurt on the job, you had to sue your employer in civil court and prove that the employer was at fault for causing your injury. Since 1913, all you have to prove is that you were hurt in the course and scope of employment and you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The benefits are limited to what is provided by the law on the date that you were injured.

2. What types of injuries are covered under workers’ compensation in Minnesota?

Answer:

Physical injuries are covered by workers’ compensation in Minnesota. There are several different types of physical injuries that a person can sustain:

  • The first type of injury occurs in a traumatic accident. As an example, if you are carrying a box and fall down and break your leg, it is easy to establish the injury happened at work.
  • Another type of injury is referred to as a Gillette injury. A Gillette injury is one that occurs over a period of time as a result of repetitive work activity. For example, if you are a bricklayer and spend thirty years laying bricks and one day your shoulder freezes up but you did not fall down and injury the shoulder on a specific date, you have a compensable injury based upon the repetitive work activity you performed causing the shoulder to lock up.
  • A third type of injury is an occupational disease. Assume that you work around chemicals and later develop lung cancer caused by the chemical exposure. Your lung cancer would be covered by workers’ compensation because the chemical exposure at work substantially contributed to your developing lung cancer.
  • Consequential injuries are also covered under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Law. Consequential injuries occur if you have a back injury which causes you to limp resulting in the development of leg pain. In such a circumstance, both your back and leg injury are covered by workers’ compensation because the leg pain developed as a consequence of the back injury.
  • Finally, if you sustain an injury while treating for a work-related injury, the injury would also be covered. As an example, if you are treating for a back injury and get into a car accident while going to the doctor to treat for the work-related injury and break your arm, both your back and arm injuries would be covered under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act.

3. Are stress-related claims covered under workers’ compensation in Minnesota?

Answer:

Effective October 1, 2013, employees in Minnesota diagnosed with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) caused by an incident at work will be covered for workers’ compensation benefits. The change in law recognized that mental-injuries, injuries without any physical injury are covered. Prior to the change in law, mental injury could result in a compensable claim if it was caused by a physical injury, such as depression caused by a back injury, or if it resulted in a physical injury like a police officer developing an ulcer caused by the stress on the job. The PTSD diagnosis must be made by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist. Stress caused by work place actions such as discipline, lay-offs, or terminations are not covered under the new law.

Minnesota Statutes Chapter 176.011, subd. 15(e), effective for injuries on or after January 1, 2019, provides certain first responders, public safety dispatchers, and specified employees in secure government facilities with a rebuttable presumption of work-relatedness for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) claims when diagnosed by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

For injuries from October 1, 2013, through December 31, 2018, all employees had the burden of proving their claims were work related.

Prior to October 1, 2013, PTSD was compensable only if the employee could show that it resulted from or caused a physical injury.

4. Is it possible to bring a claim for Covid-19?

Answer:

Effective April 8, 2020, Minnesota Statutes 176.011, subdivision 15, provides that certain employees who contract COVID-19 are presumed to have an occupational disease covered by the Minnesota workers’ compensation law. The covered employees include first responders, health care workers, correctional workers, and those workers required to provide child care services for the children of first responders and health care workers.

Under the new law, the employees listed below are presumed to have contracted a workers’ compensation occupational disease if they have contracted COVID-19:

  • An employee is entitled to the presumption if they contract COVID-19 on or after April 8, 2020, while employed in one of these occupations:

    • a licensed peace officer under Minnesota Statutes, section 626.84, subdivision 1, a firefighter, a paramedic, or an emergency medical technician;
    • a nurse or health care worker, correctional officer, or security counselor employed by the state or a political subdivision (such as a city or county) at a corrections, detention, or secure treatment facility;
    • a health care provider, nurse, or assistive employee employed in a health care, home care, or long-term care setting, with direct COVID-19 patient care or ancillary work in COVID-19 patient units; and
    • a person required to provide child care to first responders and health care workers under the Governor’s Executive Orders 20-02 and 20-19

An employee can show they “contracted” COVID-19 under the new law if they have either a positive laboratory test or, if a test was not available for the employee, a diagnosis based on symptoms by a licensed physician, licensed physician’s assistant, or licensed advanced practice registered nurse.

If an employee has contracted COVID-19 and is employed in one of the occupations described above, the illness is presumed to be a workers’ compensation occupational disease and is compensable, unless the employer “rebuts” (disproves) the presumption.

The employer may only rebut the presumption by proving the employee’s employment was not a direct cause of the disease. The employer has the burden of proving, by the preponderance of the evidence, that the employee was not exposed to COVID-19 while performing their job duties or that the exposure to COVID-19 could not have been a cause of the employee’s illness.

An employee who has contracted COVID-19, but is not entitled to the presumption under the new law is not prohibited from claiming an occupational disease as provided in other paragraphs of the occupational disease law (Minn. Stat. § 176.011, subd. 15) or from claiming a workers’ compensation injury under subdivision 16.

5. Who can file a workers’ compensation claim in Minnesota?

Answer: Only employees are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. An employee is someone who works for a business entity or an individual for pay. Certain types of employment situations are not covered. If you are an independent contractor, you are not covered for workers’ compensation. If you are a corporate officer, such as a vice president of a corporation, you are not covered unless you have specifically elected to be covered for workers’ compensation coverage. Also, if you are a family member working for your mom, dad, brother, or uncle, you are not covered unless there is a specific election to cover family members for workers’ compensation benefits. If you are farm laborer, you generally are not covered. Volunteers may or may not be covered depending on the specific factual circumstances surrounding their employment.

6. Can I receive workers’ compensation benefits if I re-injury a pre-existing condition?

Answer: If a pre-existing condition is injured in a work incident, you may be covered by workers’ compensation. In order to have a compensable workers’ compensation injury, the injury to the pre-existing condition has to be a substantial contributing factor. In other words, the work injury does not have to be the sole factor or even a primary factor, only a substantial contributing factor. If you have a pre-existing low back condition and while lifting a box at work, develop back pain, workers’ compensation should cover the injury because the work activities substantially contributed to the aggravation of your pre-existing back condition.

7. How do I tell my employer that I was hurt on the job?

Answer: In Minnesota, injured employee must notify the employer of a work-related injury in a timely manner. The report should be made in writing but in the modern world, notice could be made by email, voicemail, or text message. The notice should be made to someone in a supervisory position such as your supervisor or in the human resources department. The notice should include the specific detail of how you were injured. Once you report the incident to your supervisor, the supervisor should advise the appropriate human resources individual, who then should complete a First Report of Injury for forwarding to the workers’ compensation insurance carrier. If your employer refuses to file the claim, you should contact the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry and personnel there will assist you in filing the claim.

8. What happens once I notify my employer of my workers’ compensation claim?

Answer: Once you have notified the employer of your work related injury, the employer has 10 days to report the injury to the insurer. If the claimed injury wholly or partially incapacitates you for more than three calendar days, the claim must be made using the First Report of Injury (FROI) form. If the claim involves death or serious injury, the insurer and the Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) must be notified within 48 hours. The insurer must accept or reject your claim by filing a Notice of Primary Liability Determination (NOPLD) within 14 days. If your claim is rejected you should consult legal counsel to protect your legal rights. A Claim Petition will be filed by an attorney at Quinlivan & Hughes, PA to pursue your workers’ compensation benefits and starting the litigation process.

9. Do bankruptcy and divorce impact my workers’ compensation benefits?

Answer: Every workers’ compensation claim is unique to that particular individual. If the insurer files for bankruptcy, an employee will continue to collect benefits from the Minnesota Insurance Guaranty Association. In general, workers’ compensation benefits are exempt from creditors under Minnesota and federal law. We suggest that each employee discuss with their bankruptcy attorney when filing for bankruptcy whether to use the Minnesota or federal bankruptcy exemptions. It is our general understanding that in many cases the Minnesota exemptions are more favorable. Because workers’ compensation benefits are specific to an employee the benefits received are not subject to the divorce laws, especially benefits for permanent partial disability, rehabilitation, and medical benefits. Wage loss benefits such as temporary total disability could be subject to division in divorce and we recommend consulting with counsel on this issue.

10. Can my employer fire me for filing a workers’ compensation claim?

Answer: No. You cannot be fired if you file a workers’ compensation claim with your employer. In Minnesota, a specific statute 176.82 provides if your employer obstructs the filing of your claim or fines you because you filed a claim that you can sue your employer in District Court. You are protected. The statute also provides a cause of action against the employer if the employer refuses your continued employment if employment is available within your physical limitations.

11. How do you evaluate a workers’ compensation claim?

Answer:

There are a number of factors that are important in evaluating and assessing your workers’ compensation claim such as:

  • Nature and extent of your injuries.
  • Whether your claim been admitted on denied by employer and insurer.
  • Your age and educational background.
  • Your physical restrictions after the injury.
  • How much you earned per week before the injury and, how much you are able to earn after this injury.
  • Did you return to work with the date of injury employer or a new employer?
  • Where you live in Minnesota.
  • Do you need retraining in order to return to work?
  • The extent of your permanent partial disability post-injury.

All of these facts play a role in evaluating the value of your case. Every case is unique with its own variables which is why you need to seek legal counsel before settling your claim.

12. What constitutes a workers’ compensation claim?

Answer: To prove a compensable claim, an employee must prove four elements. First, that the employee sustained a personal or occupational disease. Second, that the employee’s injury arose out of the employment or, in other words, when injured you were performing a task for the benefit of the employer. Third, the injury occurred within the course of employment which is a time and place test meaning you were injured on the job. The fourth requirement is that you provided the employer notice of the injury in a timely manner.

13. Do you receive wage loss when injured on the job?

Answer:

There are different types of wage loss benefits. If you are totally disabled from work, you are entitled to temporary total disability benefits which are wage loss benefits that are paid when you are not able to work at all. If you are able to return to work following the injury and are earing less money than you did at the time of the injury, you may be entitled to temporary partial disability benefits. There are limitations on your receipt of temporary total and temporary partial disability benefits as to the number of weeks each benefit will be paid. If you can never return to work as a result of a work-related injury, you are entitled to receive permanent total disability benefits.

For work injuries on or after October 1, 1995 to September 30, 2018, PTD benefits cease at the age of 67. The Minnesota Workers’ Compensation law presumes an employee would retire from the labor market at this age but, the presumption is rebuttable.

If you are injured after October 1, 2018, the presumed retirement age is 72. If you are injured after age 67 there is a cap of 5 years of PTD benefits.

Wage Benefits

The statewide average weekly wage is $1,144.00 effective October 1, 2020. As a result, the maximum compensation rate will increase to $1,167.00 because it is set at 102% of the SAWW. For injuries on or after October 1, 2020, the permanent total minimum pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 176.101, subd. 4 will be $744.00. Finally, the minimum compensation payable for injuries on or after October 1, 2020 will remain at $130.00 or the employee’s actual average weekly wage, whichever is less.

14. What if I have a permanent injury?

Answer: If you sustain a permanent functional loss of a body part as a result of a work injury, you would be entitled to permanent partial disability benefits (PPD). PPD ratings since 1984 have been assigned based upon the percentage of disability to the body as a whole using a schedule. The schedule for PPD benefits is published by the Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) and is based upon objective medical evidence. Again, the purpose for PPD benefits is to compensate you for the loss of use and function and your injured back, arm or leg. PPD benefits can be paid concurrently with temporary partial disability and permanent total disability benefits, but not with temporary total disability benefits.

15. What if I cannot return to work with the date of injury employer?

Answer: If you cannot return to work with the date of injury employer because of your work related injury, you are entitled to vocational rehabilitation services. Vocational rehabilitation services are provided by a Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant (QRC). The QRC is a licensed professional who provides needed services for you to find a new job. Your new job position should fall within your physical restrictions/limitations; pay you close to your date of injury wage; be in the same geographic area where you live; and a job that you can perform with your current skills. If you cannot find a job after working with a QRC, you may entitled to be retrained into a new job position or field to restore your lost earning capacity.

16. What medical benefits are available?

Answer:

The Minnesota workers’ compensation statute provides that all reasonable and necessary medical expenses associated with a work-related injury are covered. The form of medical treatment and duration are governed by the treatment parameters applicable to the body part injured in the work accident.

Doctors are aware of these treatment parameters and will follow them to make sure you are provided appropriate medical care. Medical benefits do continue even after you return to work. Also, surgery is covered and an injured worker cannot be forced to undergo surgery. In general, you may choose your own physician. However, you can only have one primary physician at a time for an injury. If your employer has a managed care plan certified by the Department of Labor and Industry, then the employer can require you to receive medical care through that plan. Finally, there are procedures in place should the dispute arise over the type of treatment required to return you to work.

17. How often do workers’ compensation cases settle?

Answer: In our experience, most cases settle but, occasionally cases do go to hearing. Within the workers’ compensation system, there are a variety of different procedures available should a dispute arise over your entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits. These include medical and rehabilitation conferences, administrative conferences over discontinued wage loss benefits, filing of Claim Petitions and full evidentiary hearings held before compensation judges. Though most cases settle, almost all matters have some sort of dispute that utilizes one or more of the procedures available within the workers’ compensation system to resolve disputes.

18. How long do workers’ compensation cases take to reach a conclusion?

Answer: In our experience, most workers’ compensation claims take from 18 months to two years to reach some type of resolution. However, some cases can last much longer. Again, on average you can expect that your case will take 18 months to two years before it comes to a conclusion.

19. Do I receive payment for pain and suffering if I bring a workers’ compensation claim?

Answer: The answer is “no.” The Minnesota workers’ compensation scheme does not allow for you to recover for pain and suffering. One of the principles the system was based is that benefits available to an injured worker are limited and do not include any payment for pain and suffering. Also, there is no compensation for the loss of your lifestyle, your family life, or the impact of your injury has on your spouse. Instead, the system provides increased likelihood that you will receive benefits for your work-related injury but the monetary sum recovered for that injury is limited. The purpose of the system is to provide moderate benefits to all injured employees rather than large awards to a few and no benefit to many injured workers.

20. If my spouse dies in a work related accident, am I entitled to workers’ compensation benefits?

Answer:

Yes. A spouse and certain dependents of an employee who dies in a work related accident are entitled to benefits. The amount of the benefits payable is based on the number of dependents at the time of death. The amount payable is limited to the maximum compensation rate at the time of the employee’s death. In general, benefits are payable as follows:

  • A surviving spouse with no dependent children is 50% of the decedent’s weekly wage at the time of injury.
  • The amount of benefits payable to a surviving spouse is based on the number of dependent children. The maximum benefits are two-thirds of the wages the employee was earning at the time of death.
  • If the deceased worker has no surviving spouse but leaves only dependent children, the benefit payable is 55% of the weekly wage and two-thirds of the weekly wage for two or more dependent children.
  • If there is no surviving spouse or dependent children, benefits may be payable to other close relatives who were actual dependents of the deceased employee.

If there is a surviving spouse and no dependent children, payments continue for ten years. If there is a surviving spouse and there are dependent children, payments continue for ten years after the last child ceases to be dependent. The act also provides that burial expenses are payable up to $15,000.00.

Have More Questions? We Have Answers.

Every workers’ compensation claim is unique. For a more in-depth discussion about your claim, your questions and your concerns, contact us online or call 320-200-4928. We have offices in St. Cloud and Monticello.