Monday, February 25, 2013

PERA Police and Fire Plan Duty Disability Age and Service Limitations

I met with a firefighter recently who had just had her 55th birthday. Over the last few years, she had been having increasing difficulty performing her normal firefighting duties due to the worsening effects of several on-duty injuries she had sustained over the years. Even though her injuries, in my opinion, clearly meet the PERA Police and Fire Plan Duty Disability requirements, because she was over the age of 55, and had in excess of 20 years of PERA-covered service, she will not be eligible for Duty Disability benefits.

PERA Police and Fire Plan Duty Disability benefits are tax-free disability benefits, payable at a base rate of 60% of a disabled firefighter or police officer’s average high five salary for five years, or through age 55, whichever is longer. PERA Police and Fire Regular Disability benefits are disability benefits payable at a base rate of 45% of a disabled firefighter or police officer’s average high five salary for five years, or though age 55, whichever is longer.

Among other requirements and limitations, Minnesota police officers and firefighters, who have more than 20 years of service must apply for Duty Disability benefits before age 55. Police officers and firefighters who have more than 15 years of service must apply for Regular Disability benefits before age 55. In other words, a police officer or firefighter who is over the age of 55 can still apply for Duty Disability if he or she has less than 20 years of service, or Regular Disability if he or she has less than 15 years of service.

After age 55, in most cases, the actual amount of the benefit for PERA Duty Disability benefits and a regular PERA Retirement pension is the same. However, Duty Disability benefits are non-taxable, while Retirement benefits are taxable. The tax advantages of a Duty Disability benefit versus a Retirement benefit can be worth tens of thousands of dollars over the course of several years.

Minnesota Police Officers and Firefighters who are ineligible for Duty Disability benefits due to the age and service limitation requirements, are still eligible for Continuation of Health Insurance Coverage under Minn. Stat. § 299A.465, if they otherwise meet the duty disability criterion. This benefit requires that the employer continue health insurance coverage for the disabled police officer or firefighter through age 65. In other words, even if you can’t apply for a Duty Disability benefit because you’re over age 55, you may still be eligible Continuation of Health Insurance Coverage.

In the case of the firefighter I mentioned above, ultimately I believe we'll be able to assist her in procuring Health Care Continuation benefits, in addition to workers' compensation benefits, even though she cannot apply for PERA Duty Disability benefits. 

The moral of the story is, if you are a Minnesota police officer or firefighter and you are considering retiring from service due to the effects of an in-the-line-of-duty injury, don’t wait until you hit age 55 to evaluate your potential PERA Duty Disability claim! 

Meuser & Associate proudly represents dozens of police officers and firefighters throughout the state of Minnesota. We’ve successfully procured PERA Duty Disability benefits and Continuation of Health Insurance Coverage benefits for dozens of police officers, corrections officers, and firefighters.

Here are a few examples of our recent successes:
  • We secured Permanent and Total PERA Duty Disability benefits and Continuation of Health Insurance Coverage benefits on behalf of a firefighter who was over the age of 55, but had less than 20 years of service, after he sustained a career-ending low back injury. 
  • We were awarded Duty Disability benefits and Continuation of Health Insurance Coverage benefits for a firefighter who sustained a low back injury which required surgery. We also secured a large workers’ compensation settlement on his behalf. 
  • We were able to secure an award of PERA Duty Disability Benefits and Continuation of Health Insurance benefits for a police officer who was over the age of 55, but had less than 20 years of service, when he sustained disabling knee injuries while attempting to stop a fleeing suspect.
  • We were awarded PERA Duty Disability Benefits and Continuation of Health Insurance Benefits on behalf of a disabled police officer who injured her back when she was involved in a motor vehicle collision while responding to a call for back up for a police pursuit. 
  • We secured Duty Disability Benefits and Continued Health Insurance benefits on behalf of a police officer who had developed post-traumatic stress disorder as the result of his involvement in several shooting incidents. 
PERA Duty Disability and Health Care Continuation benefits can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you are a Minnesota police officer or firefighter, and you are concerned about your ability to continue doing your job because of the effects of a work-related injury, you should strongly consider consulting with a PERA disability lawyer to learn more about your options and your rights. A mistake can literally cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. Click here to learn more about PERA Duty Disability benefits.

To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with Jen Yackley or Ron Meuser, call Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.



Monday, February 18, 2013

Pain and Suffering and MN Workers' Compensation

How much will my employer have to pay me for the pain and suffering I’ve had to endure because of my work injury? 

Nothing, unfortunately. 

While Minnesota workers’ compensation provides a variety of benefits, including medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, and rehabilitation benefits, intangible losses, such as pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life, are not covered by workers’ comp.

Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system, meaning that it is not necessary for an injured worker to prove that his or her employer was at fault for her injuries in order to recover workers’ compensation benefits.

Basically, when Minnesota workers’ compensation laws were developed, they were based on a trade-off theory. An injured worker receives compensation for injuries he or she sustains at work regardless of fault, but the nature and extent of benefits is limited to those specific types of benefits set forth in the Chapter 176 of the Minnesota Statutes – or the Workers’ Compensation Act. An injured worker gives up the right to sue his or her employer for tort damages, including intangible losses such as pain and suffering.

In the vast majority of cases, work injuries aren’t really anyone’s fault per se. They most often occur due to an accident – where no one is at fault. Even where an on-the-job injury does occur as a result of an employer’s fault or negligence or the fault or negligence of a co-worker, the injured worker is still limited to the remedies available under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act.

On the flip-side, a worker who sustains injuries as the result of an accident, where no one is at fault, is still eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Even where the employee’s injuries are due to his or her own negligence, in most cases, that worker is covered by workers’ compensation.

Is this always fair? Certainly not. There are cases that involve egregious conduct on the part of an employer or a co-worker. There are cases that involve terrible pain and suffering where the compensation available under the Workers’ Compensation Act is truly inadequate.

We do see cases where the workers’ compensation benefits are truly inadequate to compensate an injured worker for his or her losses. However, the workers’ compensation system provides no-fault insurance for nearly all workers in the State of Minnesota for on-the-job injuries without requiring the injured worker to sue his or her employer, and without requiring the injured worker to prove that his or her employer was at fault for his or her injuries.

Even though pain and suffering is not covered, workers’ compensation in Minnesota does provide a variety of benefits, including medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, vocational rehabilitation benefits, and permanent partial disability benefits.

Moreover, in cases where an employee’s injuries are due to the fault of a third-party, other than the employer or a co-worker, that injured worker may be able to bring a civil liability claim against the at-fault party in addition to a claim for Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits.

For a free, no-obligation consultation to learn more about your Minnesota workers’ compensation rights, contact Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email to speak with one of our attorneys. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

What is a Stipulation Status Conference? MN Workers' Compensation Proceedings

My workers’ compensation case settled. I received Notice of a Stipulation Status Conference from the Office of Administrative Hearings. What is this? 

A Stipulation Status Conference is an informal conference scheduled by the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) to determine or confirm the status of a pending dispute. Once OAH has been notified that a workers’ compensation case has settled, the case is scheduled for a Stipulation Status Conference several weeks later.

The purpose of the Stipulation Status Conference is essentially to ensure that a Stipulation for Settlement is filed with the Court in a timely manner once a case has settled. In some cases, there are numerous issues that must be resolved even after a tentative agreement is reached. For example, medical providers must often be negotiated with concerning resolution of their outstanding bills. If there are many medical providers, or intervenors, it can take additional time to resolve all of the outstanding medical expenses. In other cases, it can take time to procure additional documentation or information before a settlement can be finalized. In these instances, if a settlement is taking longer than anticipated to finalize, the purpose of the Stipulation Status Conference is to ensure that the parties are moving things in the right direction, and to offer the assistance of the Court in resolving outstanding matters.

Rarely, after a tentative settlement has been reached, one or more of the parties decides to back out of the settlement. During a Stipulation Status Conference, the Court will place the matter back on the trial calendar if a tentative settlement falls apart.

As a rule, our clients do not need to attend Stipulation Status Conferences. Most often, they are cancelled prior to the date of the conference, once the appropriate paperwork has been filed. If a Stipulation Status Conference does take place, and you are represented by Meuser & Associate, Ron or Jen will attend on your behalf.

If you are not represented, or if you are represented by another Minnesota workers’ compensation attorney, you should either plan to attend, or ask your attorney whether you need to attend or not. For a free, no-obligation workers’ compensation legal consultation, contact Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.


Monday, February 4, 2013

MN Work Comp Court of Appeals Win Secured by Meuser & Associate

We recently received the MN Work Comp Court of Appeals decision on a hard-fought case involving a Minnesota metro firefighter. The self-insured employer mounted a very aggressive defense on his case. We won over $100,000.00 on behalf of our client as the result of a hearing held in March 2012. The self-insured employer then appealed the decision. Oral arguments at the Court of Appeals were heard in October 2012, and the Minnesota Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals issued its decision affirming the decision of the lower court in January 2013. You can read the entire decision in Vanderbeek vs. City of St. Paul.


This case involved a variety of complex issues, including:

1) credibility issues,
2) whether the employee retired from the labor market,
3) whether the employee was entitled to permanent partial disability,
4) whether the employee was required to conduct job search to establish his eligibility for temporary partial disability benefits, and
5) whether his back condition was related to his work injury or a pre-existing condition.

Meuser & Associate proudly represents injured firefighters throughout the state of Minnesota for workers' compensation and PERA duty disability claims. Sometimes, employers pay injured firefighters the workers' compensation benefits they are owed, and sometimes they don't. In our opinion, the self-insured employer in this case should have paid benefits from day one, but it took a trial, and a Court of Appeals decision to get this injured firefighter the benefits he was owed.

For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.



Thursday, August 23, 2012

MN PERA Duty Disability Application Tips

Police Officers and Firefighters in the state of Minnesota are generally covered for disability and retirement benefits under the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) Police and Fire Plan. 

 Minnesota firefighters or police officers who sustain injuries in the line of duty are generally eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, including medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, and/or rehabilitation benefits.

A firefighter or police officer may also be eligible for PERA duty disability if his or her injury results in a disability that is expected to prevent that individual from performing his or her normal duties for a period of at least year, and that the disability is the direct result of an injury sustained during the performance of duties that are 1) specific to protecting safety or property, and that 2) present inherent dangers specific to police officers or firefighters.

PERA Police and Fire Duty Disability benefits provide a monthly benefit at a base rate of 60% of the police officer or firefighter’s average high-five salary, until age 55 or for 5 years, whichever is longer. Duty disability benefits are non-taxable until age 55, and duty disability beneficiaries are also eligible for continued health insurance benefits in accordance with Minnesota Statute § 299A.465.

Unfortunately, applying for PERA duty disability benefits is not always as simple and straightforward as it should be. Making mistakes during the application process can result in substantial delays in your receipt of benefits, or it can even end up costing you thousands of dollars’ worth of benefits.

It's a lot cheaper and faster to get your application right the first time, rather than having to appeal an adverse determination to get the benefits you're entitled to. If you’re applying for PERA duty disability benefits on your own, here are some tips to increase your chances of success:
  1. Read the legal requirements, set forth in Minn. Stat. §353.656, Subd. 1, Minn. Stat. §353.01, Subd. 41, and Minn. Stat. §353.031, and make sure you understand exactly what you have to show to PERA in order to qualify for benefits. Keep these requirements in mind when you’re completing the application and providing supporting documentation. 
  2. If you are over the age of 50, and you have an injury or disability that may prevent you from returning to full duty, or may end your career early, evaluate whether you may be eligible for duty disability benefits. You cannot apply for PERA duty disability benefits if you are over the age of 55 and have in excess of 20 years of service. 
  3. Make sure you know what kind of doctors you need to complete your medical reports, and how many reports you need. Make sure you know what those reports need to say in order to support your application. 
  4. If your injury occurred more than two years prior to your application for duty disability benefits, you will need to show proof that you cannot perform the duties you were expected to perform in the 90 days preceding your application. 
  5. You must submit your application for PERA duty disability within 18 months of terminating public service. Don't wait too long to apply! 
Meuser & Associate has proudly represented dozens and dozens of police officers and firefighters all over the state of Minnesota in conjunction with their claims for duty disability benefits. If you are an injured firefighter or police officer in the state of Minnesota, we strongly encourage you to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to learn more about the benefits you may be eligible for, including workers’ compensation benefits, PERA disability benefits, and/or continuation of health insurance benefits.

Here are some examples of our recent PERA duty disability successes:
  • We secured PERA duty disability benefits for a police officer who developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his involvement in number of extremely traumatic events. His application was originally denied, and after we put together substantial medical evidence in support of his claim, PERA reversed its determination on appeal, awarding him duty disability benefits. 
  • We secured MSRS duty disability benefits on behalf of a Minnesota State Conservation Officer for injuries to his neck, elbow, shoulder, and back that he sustained during a motor vehicle collision while he worked for the State Patrol several years earlier. He was also awarded continued health insurance benefits. 
  • We secured PERA duty disability benefits for a firefighter who sustained a stroke while at the scene of a house fire. 
  • We secured an award of PERA duty disability benefits and continued health insurance benefits on behalf of a firefighter who sustained a back injury during the course of a warehouse fire. His application was initially denied, and after a hearing before an administrative law judge, PERA reversed its determination and awarded him duty disability benefits. 
 Read more about applying for PERA duty disability benefits.

To schedule a free, no-obligation legal consultation with Jen or Ron to learn more about your eligibility for Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits and PERA duty disability benefits, call us at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email. 



Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Social Security and Minnesota Workers' Comp

Individuals who sustain on-the-job injuries in Minnesota are generally eligible for various workers’ compensation benefits, including medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, and/or rehabilitation benefits. If an individual’s injury is severe and prevents that individual from working for an extended period of time, he or she may also be eligible for Social Security Disability or Social Security Supplemental Insurance. 

At Meuser & Associate, we evaluate every workers’ compensation case to determine if there are additional benefits available to that injured worker, including social security benefits. My colleague, Jason Emery of Greeman Toomey PLLC has been kind enough to write a guest article for this blog providing some information about the types of Social Security benefits available and what it takes to qualify for those benefits.

"The Social Security disability process exists in order to provide assistance to individuals who are unable to work due to a physical or mental impairment or a combination of both. 

The Social Security Administration defines disability (for adults) as “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 

In other words, if you have been unable to work for at least 12 months due to a severe impairment, or expect to be unable to work for 12 months, you may be eligible to receive benefits. 

There are several different programs available to individuals who qualify. The two primary types of programs people qualify for are Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). 

Individuals who have paid into Social Security through taxes in the past may qualify for Disability Insurance Benefits if they have paid FICA taxes for at least five out of the last ten years. The amount an individual will be entitled to under this program will be determined by how much an individual has paid into the system. The Social Security Administration typically mails taxpayers a statement every year around their birthdays indicating how much they would receive if they were to be found disabled. 

Supplemental Security Income benefits are available to individuals who lack significant resources. Typically, an individual who is applying for SSI benefits cannot have more than $2,000 in resources and a couple cannot have resources in excess of $3,000 if one of the partners is applying for SSI benefits. The Social Security Administration will consider things such as cash, bank accounts, stocks, U.S. savings bonds, land, life insurance, personal property, vehicles and anything else which could be changed to cash in determining a person’s or a couple’s resources. The maximum monthly payment for SSI benefits in 2012 is $698 for an individual or $1,048 for a married couple (who are both found to be disabled). 

An individual can file applications for both Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income at the same time. This is called filing “concurrent” applications. The standard, or definition, for disability under both programs is identical. If an individual is found to be medically disabled under one program, he or she will be found disabled under the other program as well. However, a person generally cannot receive Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income for the same time period. Rather, the Social Security Administration will determine which amount is greater and issue that payment. 

The date an individual applies for Social Security disability has a significant impact on the amount he or she may be entitled to. Disability Insurance Benefits may be paid retroactively up to a year before an individual files an application. Supplemental Security Income benefits can only be paid as of the date of the application, regardless of when it is determined a person became disabled. Therefore, it is very important to file an application as soon as possible if an individual feels he or she may not be able to work for at least 12 months. 
To schedule a free initial consultation or ask about the Social Security disability process, feel free to contact attorney Jason R. Emery at Greeman Toomey PLLC at 1-877-332-3252 or by emailing jason@greemantoomey.com."


For a free, no-obligation legal consultation regarding your Minnesota workers' compensation rights, call Meuser & Associate at  877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email. 

 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Hot Weather Work Safety: Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

During these dog days of summer here in Minnesota, outdoor workers need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat stress and how to treat it. Heat stress occurs when a worker's body cannot cool down quickly enough.  

Heat exhaustion can be dangerous and heat stroke can be fatal.  


The symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke include:


If someone is suffering heat exhaustion or heat stroke, the following steps should be taken: 


You can take steps to avoid heat stress injuries such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, including:
  • Learning the signs and symptoms of heat stress. 
  • Drinking plenty of water or electrolyte drinks. 
  • Avoiding heavy work during the hottest parts of the day. 
  • Slowing down the pace of work and taking more breaks. 
  • Wearing light-weight, loose-fitting, light-colored, breathable clothing and a hat. 
  • Taking regular breaks in the shade or in a cool area. 
  • Avoiding alcoholic beverages or drinks with caffeine before or during work. 
  • Keeping an eye on co-workers for symptoms of heat stress. 
  • If you start to feel ill, stop what you’re doing immediately, and take steps to cool down. Tell your supervisor. 
If you’ve sustained a heat-related injury on the job in Minnesota that required medical attention, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. To learn more about your rights, call Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Is My MN Workers' Comp. Claim Denied?

In our Minnesota workers’ compensation law practice, we regularly see even the most legitimate workers’ compensation claims being denied by workers’ compensation insurance companies. If primary liability is denied on your Minnesota workers’ compensation claim, you should strongly consider consulting with a Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyer. 

If you’ve sustained an on-the-job injury in Minnesota, your employer is supposed to report your injury to their workers’ compensation insurance company by filing a First Report of Injury form within 10 days of the date they had knowledge of your injury, or 10 days from the date that you reported your injury. If you miss more than three calendar days of work, the insurer is required to file the First Report of Injury form with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

The workers’ compensation insurance company has up to 14 days from the date your employer had notice of your injury within which to file a Notice of Primary Liability Determination in the event that the insurer is denying primary liability on your claim. In some cases, the insurance company may make initial payments on your case, and then after conducting an “investigation,” retroactively deny primary liability.

A Notice of Primary Liability Determination which denies liability requires a statement setting forth “a specific reason for the denial which must be in language easily readable and understandable…and a clear statement of the facts forming the basis for the denial.” If primary liability is denied on your Minnesota workers’ compensation case, it generally starts the running of a three-year Statute of Limitations. Unfortunately, not all employers or insurance companies follow these rules. Moreover, an insurer’s denial of primary liability on a workers’ compensation case is not always justified. In many cases, the basis for the denial is questionable or just plain wrong.

A Minnesota workers’ compensation attorney can help you contest a denial of primary liability on your workers’ compensation case. For a free, no-obligation case consultation, call Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Diagnostic Tests for Cervical Herniated Discs

If your doctor suspects that you have a herniated disc in your cervical spine (neck) as the result of a work-related injury, you may be referred to undergo diagnostic tests to confirm a diagnosis. 

MRI 

An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan is the most common test used to diagnose a herniated disc. An MRI scan can image disc bulges, herniations, and nerve root impingement.

CT Scan

A CT (computerized tomography) scan combines x-ray views from many different angles to produce cross-sectional images of the bones and soft tissues inside your body. A CT scan may also performed using injected contrast dye, called a CT myleogram, to better visualize nerve root compression.

Discography 

Discography involves the insertion of a small needle into the discs to inject contrast dye. If the injection reproduces your pain, it confirms that the injected disc is the source of your pain.

EMG 

An EMG (Electromyography) is an electrical test involving stimulating specific nerves and inserting needles into various muscles in the arms and legs that may be affected by a pinched nerve. An EMG can help confirm the presence of nerve impingement, and help pin-point which nerve is causing you trouble.

In Minnesota, if you’ve sustained a work-related injury, and your doctor directs you to undergo an MRI, a CT scan, a discography, or an EMG to help diagnose your injury, these tests are often covered by Minnesota workers’ compensation insurance. Referrals for diagnostic studies such as MRIs, CT scans, discograhpies, or EMGs, are commonly the source of disputes in Minnesota workers’ compensation cases.

If the workers’ compensation insurance company is refusing to authorize the diagnostic procedure your doctor has recommended, a Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyer can help you get the medical care you need. Call Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email for a free, no-obligation Minnesota workers’ compensation legal consultation. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Is Skin Cancer Covered by Workers’ Comp. in Minnesota?

That’s a tough question. While skin cancer, in some instances, could arguably be an occupational disease that was substantially caused by a workers’ sun exposure at work, the difficulty is in proving the medical causal relationship between the skin cancer and the work activities.

While there are a few cases in other states awarding benefits for work-related skin cancer, I’m not aware of any case law in Minnesota awarding workers’ compensation benefits for skin cancer as a result of a workers’ exposure to the sun. Please, if I am incorrect, and you are aware of a case awarding benefits, let me know by emailing me or posting a comment below.

In my opinion, some factors that would come into play in determining the compensability of sun-exposure related skin cancer would include:
  •  The strength of medical causation opinions, both for and against. 
  • The length of time the employee worked in an occupation involving sun exposure. 
  • Alternative personal risk factors, including smoking, family history, etc. 
  • The location of the skin cancer, i.e., did it develop in a particular spot that is always exposed to the sun as a result of work activities? 
  • Other sun exposure history, i.e., outdoor recreational activities, tanning, sun bathing, etc. 
Sun exposure is without question, a cause of skin cancer, whether that exposure is during work hours, or outside of work hours. Because it is so difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of skin cancer in terms of which period of sun exposure caused the cancer to develop, workers who develop skin cancer are probably going to have a difficult time in establishing these occupational disease claims for purposes of Minnesota workers' compensation coverage.

Regardless of whether skin cancer is covered under workers’ compensation or not, it is preventable. Employees who work outdoors should always take precautions to avoid excessive sun exposure.
  • If possible, avoid sun exposure between 10 am and 2 pm. 
  • Apply high SPF sunscreen prior to sun exposure, and re-apply often. 
  • Wear a hat and a long-sleeve shirt. 
  • Wear sunglasses. 
For a free, no-obligation Minnesota workers' compensation case consultation contact Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680, or click here to send us an email.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Material Handler and Order Picker Workplace Safety

Order picking and material handling is an important task in most manufacturing industries, and unfortunately, on-the-job injuries are not uncommon. 

Back injuries incurred while lifting are among the most common hazards for order pickers. But order pickers also face risks of other types of injuries, including trips and falls, shoulder, elbow or arm strains, injuries from falling objects, and injuries involving forklifts and other material-handling equipment.

Order pickers and other material handlers should observe the following precautions to avoid the most common types of on-the-job injuries:
  • Use material-handling aids, such as hand trucks and four-wheeled carts whenever possible to minimize heavy lifting and carrying. 
  • Keep materials and supplies stored at a level between the knees and shoulders. It is much more physically strenuous to lift things from below knee level or from above shoulder height. 
  • Slide, push, or pull materials and supplies whenever possible to avoid heavy lifting and carrying. 
  • Avoid twisting the body while carrying a heavy object. Ask a co-worker for help when carrying a heavy object. 
  • Use both hands when carrying loads and keep the load lose to the body. 
  • Rotate heaving lifting duties with lighter work to reduce the wear and tear on the body. 
Many of today’s warehouses also store supplies and materials on high shelving units, sometimes up to 30 feet in height. Employees often perform order picking using operator-up lift trucks, which increases the risk of serious injuries due to a fall. Order pickers working at heights should be equipped with and wear proper fall protection, which usually means a full-body harness with a fixed-length or retractable tether. The working platform should be elevate only when actual order picking is in progress, and employees should understand load capacities and stability requirements of the equipment to avoid tip-over accidents due to overloads or unstable loads. Employees should also watch out for overhead obstructions, and the operator should avoid turning while the platform is elevated with a load to avoid tip-over accidents.

Warehouse or manufacturing order picker or material handler injuries commonly include back injuries, musculoskeletal sprains and strains, and injuries due to falls.

In Minnesota, workers who sustain injuries in the course and scope of their employment may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, including medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, vocational rehabilitation benefits, and permanent partial disability benefits.

If you've sustained an on-the-job injury in Minnesota, call Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email for a free, no-obligation workers' compensation case evaluation.
 


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Help in Settling Your Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Claim

If you’re suffering from a work-related injury, you not only have to deal with the physical symptoms of your injury, but you have the added stress of trying to deal with the workers’ compensation insurance company, trying to understand your rights and avoiding mistakes, and maybe even dealing with the uncertainty as to whether you’ll be able to continue working or not. Often times, injured workers want to settle their workers’ compensation claims in exchange for a lump sum, and in many cases, this is a good option. 

Unfortunately, trying to settle your case on your own is usually not a good idea. Minnesota workers’ compensation law is extremely complex. Workers’ compensation insurance adjusters deal with workers’ compensation law all day, every day. They know the rules; you probably don’t. They can spot potential problems on your case; you may not even be aware these potential problems exist. They recognize potential claims you may have, but they are not obligated to tell you about them. To make the playing field even less equal, insurance adjuster often hire defense attorneys to give them advice and guidance, particularly if there are disputes on your claim.

The deck is stacked against injured workers. 

A good Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyer can help you level the playing field, particularly if you’re exploring settlement of your case. There are literally dozens of factors that come into play in determining a fair settlement value of a workers’ compensation case, and a workers’ compensation lawyer can help you evaluate these factors. In order give yourself the best chance of securing the best results on your case, or increasing your odds of protecting your rights, you will want a legal ally on your side with just as much experience and knowledge about the workers’ compensation system as the other side has.

Educating yourself about your Minnesota workers’ compensation rights is the first step in protecting those rights. For a free, no-obligation workers’ compensation case consultation, contact Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680, or click here to send us an email to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

What is a Spinal Burst Fracture?

Spinal burst fractures are extremely serious injuries, and are usually caused by severe trauma such as a motor vehicle accident or a fall from a height

Extreme amounts of force exerted onto the spine can crush the vertebrae of the spine. A burst fracture involves extreme compression, or crushing, of the vertebra, causing the edges of the bone to spread out in all directions. With bony fragments and edges spreading out in all directions, there is a strong possibility that the spinal cord will be injured, resulting in paralysis or partial neurological injury. A burst fracture also causes severe instability of the spine at the affected area.

Neurological injury from a burst fracture can (in some lucky cases), cause no injury at all, or it can cause complete paralysis if the spinal cord damage is severe. The degree of neurological injury is usually determined by the amount of force at the time of injury, and the severity of the damage to the spinal canal. Bony fragments from a fractured vertebra can be forced into the spinal canal, resulting in loss of strength, sensation, or reflexes below the level of the injury. Mild burst fractures can result in relatively minimal symptoms or mild or no neurological injury.

Following an accident where a spinal injury is suspected, x-rays, CT scans, and/or MRI scans may be used to determine the amount of soft tissue trauma, bleeding, or ligament disruption, the presence and location of fracture, the type of fracture, and the amount of spinal canal compromise. All of these elements help determine the course of treatment.

Burst fractures, even without neurological injury, can be extremely painful, and can cause severe, long-term disability. Spinal burst fractures with neurological or spinal cord injuries can be physically, emotionally, and financially devastating.

If you or a loved one sustained a spinal fracture as a result of a work-related accident, or a car accident due to someone else’s fault, you may be entitled to compensation in Minnesota. For a free, no-obligation case evaluation, contact Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680, or click here to send us an email to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys. We can help you get the compensation you are entitled to. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ethylene Oxide Exposure and Minnesota Workers’ Compensation

Ethylene oxide (EtO) is a flammable, colorless gas (above 51.3 degrees Fahrenheit) that smells like ether at toxic levels. It is found in the production of solvents, antifreeze, textiles, detergents, adhesives, polyurethane foam, and pharmaceuticals. It can also be found in fumigants, sterilants for spices and cosmetics, and surgical equipment sterilizers.

Exposure to ethylene oxide can cause eye and throat irritation, difficulty breathing, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, headache, convulsions, blisters, vomiting, and coughing. Exposure to EtO has also been linked to leukemia and other cancers, spontaneous abortion, genetic damage, nerve damage, peripheral paralysis, muscle weakness, as well as impaired thinking and memory. In liquid form EtO can cause severe skin irritation with prolonged or confined contact.

To learn more about Ethylene oxide in the workplace, read OSHA’s Ethylene Oxide Factsheet.

In Minnesota, workers who suffer injuries or illnesses related to chemical exposure at work are often eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, including wage loss benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, vocational rehabilitation benefits, and medical expense benefits.

Injuries or illnesses caused by chemical exposure are often difficult to prove, as these types of injuries or illnesses may develop over a long period of time, or the symptoms of these illnesses or injuries can be similar to other non-work related conditions.

A Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyer can help evaluate your claim if you’ve suffered an illness or injury due to ethylene oxide exposure or any other chemical exposure at work. For a free, no-obligation case consultation, contact Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680, or click here to send us an email. 

 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Minnesota Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries can be classified in two ways: complete spinal cord injuries and incomplete spinal cord injuries. Complete spinal cord injuries involve injuries to the spinal cord that cause complete loss of voluntary function and sensation below the point of injury. Incomplete spinal cord injuries do not cause complete loss of voluntary function and sensation below the injury.

Thankfully, advancements in modern medicine have reduced the likelihood that a spinal cord injury will be complete. Many spinal cord injury victims do eventually gain some voluntary function and sensation below the point of injury with medical care.

Spinal cord injuries are caused by severe trauma to the spinal cord. These types of injuries can be the result of blunt force trauma, falls, or high speed car accidents.

In Minnesota, if you suffer a spinal cord injury as a result of your work activities, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, including wage loss benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, vocational rehabilitation benefits, and medical expense benefits.

If you suffer a spinal cord injury in a car accident due to someone else’s fault or negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your damages from the at-fault party.

Spinal cord injuries are physically, emotionally, and financially devastating. If you or a loved one has suffered a spinal cord injury at work, or as the result of a car accident, a Minnesota workers’ compensation or personal injury attorney can explain your rights, help you through the process of bringing a claim, and help you get the compensation you’re entitled to.

For a free, no-obligation case consultation, contact Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680, or click here to send us an email. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Preventing Construction Site Back Injuries

In the construction industry, 25% of injuries are back injuries. Construction has a higher rate of back injuries than any other injury, except transportation. Back injuries cause 1 in 100 construction workers to miss time from work every year.

Construction site back injuries are most often caused by lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing, and puling materials. Low back injuries are more likely if you often carry heavy loads, must twist while carrying heavy loads, or work a lot while bending over or in other awkward positions. Most back injuries are sprains and strains, but a back injury can be more severe, such as a herniated disc or nerve impingement.

Many construction back injuries can be avoided by:
  • Cutting down on carrying. Have materials delivered close to where they will be used. 
  • Storing materials at waist height. Lifting from higher or lower heights can be awkward, and can increase the risk of back injury. 
  • Raise your work to waist level. Working at waist level avoids awkward postures. 
  • Make sure floors and walkways are clear and try. Slips, trips, and falls are a common cause of back injuries. 
  • Take breaks. When you’re fatigued, you’re more likely to sustain injury. 
  • Use carts, dollies, forklifts, and hoists to move heavy materials. 
  • Use carrying tools with handles. Decrease your risk of back injury by having a good grip on awkward loads. 
  • Avoid lifting items weighing more than 50 pounds by yourself. Get help from someone else, or use a cart. 
  • Keep the load as close to your body as you can when carrying or lifting. 
  • Avoid twisting when lifting and lowering materials. 
  • Lift and lower materials in a smooth motion. 
  • Don’t bend over when lifting materials off the ground. 
If you’ve sustained an on-the-job construction injury, you may be entitled to Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits, including medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, and/or rehabilitation benefits. For a free, no-obligation case consultation contact Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680, or click here to send us an email


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Report Your Minnesota Work-Related Injury

There are over 1.8 million workplace injuries reported in the United States every year. A third of these injuries result in lost time from work. The bigger problem is that up to twice as many, or as many as 3.6 million workplace injuries go unreported every year!

There are many reasons an injured worker may not report his or her injury: fear of being fired or retaliated against, wanting to avoid being seen as “difficult,” not wanting to look like a “wimp,” not being aware of their rights under workers’ compensation, not wanting to deal with the workers’ compensation system, not being aware that it is a covered workers’ compensation injury, or being asked by their employer not to report the injury. Almost invariably, it is in your best interest to report your work injuries! 

Failure to report your injury can potentially ruin your workers’ compensation case, and bar you from receiving workers’ compensation benefits, such as medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, and/or rehabilitation benefits. If your unreported work injury worsens, and you can’t work anymore, and you need extensive medical care, it’s far more difficult to try to go back and time and allege that your injury was work-related months or years after the fact.

Even if you are able to subsequently prove, after an extended period of time, that your injury was work-related, if you failed to report the injury to your employer, you may still be barred from recovering some kinds of workers’ compensation benefits.

Here’s a real life case: I recently spoke with a gentleman who recently underwent extensive neck surgery. His doctors are telling him he will never work again. He injured his neck at work. As I’m talking to him, I’m thinking to myself that this is a clear-cut case, and he will be entitled to benefits to cover his medical expenses, and his time off work.

Then he drops the bomb: He liked his job, and he thought that he might lose his job if he reported that his injury was work-related. So, he told his manager that he got hit by a car.

*Head-smack* 

I may be able to salvage his case, I may not. I’m going to try. By trying to be the “good guy,” and not reporting that his injury was work-related, he very may well have ruined his chances at getting the workers’ compensation benefits he would clearly otherwise be entitled to.

Moral of the story: If you’re hurt on the job, report your injury. At bottom line, by failing to report your injury, or being dishonest about the circumstances of your injury, you are only hurting yourself. Should your injury worsen to the point where you’re no longer able to do your job, or if you find yourself needing extensive medical care, and you failed to report your injury, you’ve seriously jeopardized your ability to successfully claim the workers’ compensation benefits you’re entitled to. Reporting your injury protects YOU.

If you have an on-the-job injury in Minnesota, and have questions about reporting your injury, contact Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680, or click here to send us an email for a free, no-obligation case consultation. 


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Does Workers’ Compensation Affect My Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) Benefits?

Under the Social Security rules, the total amount of your workers’ compensation benefits and social security benefits cannot exceed eighty percent (80%) of your average monthly earnings before you became disabled.

If your combined benefits exceed 80% of your pre-disability average monthly earnings, your social security benefits likely will be reduced. Minnesota workers’ compensation wage loss benefits are paid at a rate of 2/3 or 66.6% of your average weekly wage (AWW) at the time of your injury. For most people receiving both workers’ compensation and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits, your social security benefits will be reduced, but not entirely offset.

When a workers’ compensation case is settled, we usually incorporate what we refer to as “Social Security” language into the Stipulation for Settlement, or the document that sets forth the terms of the settlement. In essence, this language prorates the lump sum settlement over the employee’s life expectancy. In determining whether and to what extent any offset is applicable, the Social Security Administration utilizes the prorated figures set forth in the language of the Stipulation for Settlement.

For example, assume we have a 55 year old male, born on January 1, 1956, that has settled his Minnesota workers’ compensation case for a lump sum of $35,000.00 for a close out of indemnity (monetary) benefits. According to the social security life expectancy tables, this gentleman has a life expectancy of 24.87 years, or 298.44 months.

In this case, the "Social Security" language would look something like this:
Of the $35,000.00 settlement amount, the sum of $7,200.00 is to be paid to the claimant’s attorney as fees. The claimant is currently 55 years old, having been born on January 1, 2956, and has a life expectancy of 24.87 years, or 298.44 months. The balance of $27,800.00 shall be paid to the claimant and shall represent a compromise payment of weekly indemnity benefits over the projected term of the claimant’s life expectancy of 298.44 months at the rate of $93.15 per month, or $23.29 per week. 
The advantage to incorporating this language is that the lump sum payment is stretched out over a longer period of time than most employees would be actually entitled to payment of benefits. By prorating the lump sum payment, or stretching it out over an employee’s lifetime, it minimizes any applicable Social Security offsets for the simultaneous receipt of Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits.

Individuals who are eligible for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits as the result of a work-related injury are also typically eligible for Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits. If you’re receiving SSDI benefits as a result of a disabling injury you received on the job, or if you’re currently receiving both SSDI benefits and workers’ compensation benefits, contact Meuser & Associate for a free, no-obligation case consultation. Call us at 877-746-5680, or click here to send us an email.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Tears

The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is a wide, thick band of tissue that runs down the inner part of the knee from the thighbone to a point on the shinbone about four to six inches from the knee. The MCL prevents the leg from extending too far inward, helps keep the knee stable, and allows the knee to rotate.

Injuries to the MCL can happen when the knee is hit directly from its outer side, causing the ligaments on the inside of the knee to stretch too far or to tear. It is not uncommon to tear the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) at the same time. The MCL can also be injured through repeated stress, which can cause the ligament to lose its normal stretch and elasticity.

Symptoms of an MCL tear can include:
  • Pain, the severity of which depends on the severity of the tear 
  • Stiffness 
  • Swelling 
  • Tenderness along the inside of the knee 
  • Instability, or a feeling that your knee may give out 
  • Locking or catching 
Depending on the degree of pain or looseness of the knee joint, the MCL tear will be classified as:

Grade I: Some tenderness and minor pain at the injury site.
Grade II: Noticeable looseness of the knee with manual movement, major pain and tenderness at the inside of the knee, and swelling.
Grade III: Significant pain and tenderness at the inside of the knee, swelling, marked joint instability with manual movement. A grade III MCL tear is often accompanied by an ACL tear.

Tears of the MCL usually respond well to non-surgical treatment, including rest, bracing, over-the-counter pain relievers, and physical therapy. If surgery is required, it is usually done through a small incision on the inside of the knee. If the MCL has become torn where it attaches to the thighbone or shinbone, the surgeon will re-attach the ligament to the bone using large stitches or a metal screw or bone staple. If the tear is in the middle of the ligament, the surgeon will sew the torn ends together.

If you’ve sustained an MCL tear as a result of a work-related injury, you may be eligible for Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits, including medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, and /or rehabilitation benefits. For a free, no-obligation case consultation, call Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680, or click here to send us an email.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Am I Required to Turn Over My Medical and Financial Information to the Insurer? Discovery Disclosure in Minnesota Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation Claims

Do I have to turn over my private medical and financial information to the insurance company as part of my Minnesota workers' compensation or personal injury claim?

We frequently get calls from our Minnesota personal injury and workers’ compensation clients wondering why they must sign authorizations for the release of their medical records, tax information, and wage records. While it’s not necessarily a pleasant thing to turn over your private health information and financial information to an insurance company, if you’re bringing a personal injury claim or workers’ compensation claim, in some respects, your life becomes an open book. So, yes, generally, you are required to turn over your medical and financial information to the insurance company as part of the discovery process in a Minnesota personal injury or workers’ compensation claim. 

If you are bringing a personal injury action in Minnesota against an at-fault person or entity, and you’re claiming damages for medical expenses and wage loss as a result of the injuries you sustained in an accident, you are generally obligated to disclose your medical information and financial information if you are claiming that you’re entitled to compensation for medical expenses and wage loss.

Generally speaking, in a personal injury action in Minnesota, if you’re asked to disclose information as part of the discovery process of your case, you are obligated to turn over anything that is reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence. Admissible evidence includes anything that is relevant, and tends to prove or disprove a fact of the case. Medical records after an accident obviously document your injuries, and they are clearly relevant to determining the nature and extent of your injuries. Financial records after an accident clearly document any loss of earnings you’ve suffered due to your injuries, and they are clearly relevant to determining the extent of your wage losses.

Where things get a little more complicated is disclosure of medical records and financial information in existence prior to your accident, and people often question why the insurance company should have access to this information. In essence, your prior medical history and your prior financial history are also relevant to a determination of your damages. For example, if you have a pre-existing condition, the insurance company will argue that your damages after an accident are partly attributable to your pre-existing condition. An insurance company may also argue that your prior financial records indicate that your income decreased prior to the accident due to the economic downturn, rather than as a result of the accident. Even if you don’t have a pre-existing condition, and even if you did not have a decrease in your earnings prior to the accident, the insurance company and the defendant have a right to examine your medical records and your financial information in existence prior to the accident to make their own independent determination as to whether or not there is any relevant information contained in your records.

In Minnesota workers’ compensation claims, the same general concepts, as set forth above, apply to the disclosure of medical records and income records, but the rules of discovery are somewhat more limited. For example, you are obligated to disclose the names of any medical providers you’ve ever seen for the same condition, or a similar condition, to the one you’ve alleged as part of your claim. You are also required to allow the release of your medical records from these practitioners. You’re not necessarily obligated to release other medical information, but if the workers’ compensation insurer has reason to believe that your other medical information contains relevant evidence, they can petition the judge to require you to disclose additional medical information.

You're also required to disclose any wage or income documentation that is relevant to your claim for wage loss benefits. The workers’ compensation insurer will generally be able to obtain your wage records directly from your employer, but if you’ve been self-employed in addition to your regular wages, or you’ve been self-employed in the recent past, you may be required to authorize the release of your tax information. If you’ve worked at other jobs subsequent your injury, you are also required to disclose your wage records from your other employers.

Going through the discovery process in a disputed Minnesota personal injury action or Minnesota workers’ compensation claim is not always a pleasant experience, but it is necessary. If you have questions about your rights under Minnesota personal injury or workers’ compensation law, contact Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680, or click here to send us an email.

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