Thursday, September 30, 2010

Medical Expense Benefits – MN Workers’ Compensation

One of the benefits available to injured workers under Minnesota workers’ compensation law is coverage for reasonable and necessary medical expenses. Reasonable and necessary medical expenses are fully covered under Minnesota Workers’ Compensation, meaning that you do not pay a premium, you do not have a deductible, and you do not pay co-pays for these benefits.

Minnesota Statute §176.135 provides coverage for a wide variety of medical benefits, including, but not limited to:
  • Medical treatment in an emergency room
  • Appointments with a medical doctor
  • Chiropractic treatment
  • Prescription medications
  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Podiatric treatment
  • Surgical treatment, hospitalization, and nursing services
  • Home nursing services
  • Crutches, walkers, and wheelchairs
  • Diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, MRI’s, and CT scans
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation
  • Preventative rabies treatment
  • Dental treatment
  • ….and pretty much anything else necessary to cure and/or relieve the effects of your injury.
That being said, there are treatment parameters that apply to certain types of medical treatment. For example, chiropractic treatment is generally limited for neck, upper back, low back and upper extremity injuries for a period of up to 12 weeks, plus an additional 12 visits over the next 12 months if certain requirements are met, although there are several exceptions to this rule.

The chiropractic treatment parameters are one of the most contentious issues in Minnesota workers’ compensation medical dispute cases. We regularly represent injured workers who receive substantial benefit from chiropractic treatment, but then, once they’ve reached twelve weeks of treatment, the workers’ compensation insurer stops paying.

We often speak with injured workers who are hesitant to retain an attorney when their case involves a relatively small dispute over medical treatment. Maybe the insurer hasn’t reimbursed them for some prescriptions. Or maybe the insurer won’t pre-approve a follow up MRI. Or maybe the insurer is refusing to pay for additional chiropractic treatment or physical therapy.


Injured workers often wonder whether a Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyer will take their case if they just have a medical dispute. YES! Under Minnesota workers’ compensation law, if your case is limited to a dispute primarily involving medical issues, your workers’ compensation lawyer can petition the Office of Administrative Hearings to order the workers’ compensation insurer to pay your lawyer fees called Roraff fees, which are normally separate and above and beyond benefits payable directly to you.

We regularly represent injured Minnesota workers for claims involving primarily disputes over medical care. For example:
  • We tried and won a case where a workers’ compensation insurer refused to pay a $90.00 bill for a follow up visit with the employee’s spine surgeon. The employee had previously undergone two back surgeries, and had settled her case, closing out monetary benefits. The insurer refused to pay the bill because the employee was pregnant when she had her appointment, and they argued that it was her pregnancy, not her two prior back surgeries for herniated discs, that was causing her back pain.
  •  We represent an employee who settled his monetary benefits over 15 years ago. He has severe degenerative disc disease in his spine, and when he moved to Michigan, he couldn’t find a doctor who was willing to take on his challenging case. Each year, he returns to Minnesota for a follow up appointment with his surgeon, and each year, the insurer refuses to pay for his mileage and lodging, and each year, we file a claim on his behalf, and ultimately get the insurer to reimburse him.
  • We represented a woman who sustained a severe shoulder injury in the early 1990’s. Over the last several years, she began developing severe low back pain, which we believed was related to the bone graft which was harvested from her pelvis on two separate occasions. We ultimately procured a monetary settlement on her behalf, and recently secured pre-approval from the insurer to return for a consultation for her shoulder injury with the surgeon who performed her sixth and final shoulder surgery almost 15 years ago.
For a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our workers’ compensation lawyers, call Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Backovers -- Leading Cause of Worker Fatalities in Work Zones

The leading cause of fatalities for workers in work zones is being run over or backed over by vehicles. Motorists on the road create a constant hazard for construction zone workers, but these workers are also at equal risk of being killed by construction vehicles. On average, each month, at least one road construction worker is killed by being backed over by a construction vehicle.

Between 1995 and 2002, 844 workers were killed while working at a road construction site. During this period, the most common type of incident involved a worker who was struck by a vehicle or mobile equipment (60% of fatal accidents). Other fatal events included collisions between vehicles or mobile equipment (10 %), being struck by an object (5%), and falls (5%). Eighty-two percent of workers killed in highway accidents worked in road and street construction.  

In Minnesota, several road construction workers have been killed in work zones. For example:
  • In 1992, a highway paving crew member was killed after being run over by a rear end dump truck.
  • In 1992, a highway construction flagman was killed after being stuck by a pickup truck.
  • In 1994, a highway construction worker died after being struck by a vehicle while crossing a roadway.
  • In 1995, a construction worker was killed after being run over by a 9-wheel pneumatic roller.
  • In 1996, a conveyor operator died after being run over by a belly dump trailer.
  • In 1997, a worker was killed after being run over by a Caterpillar.
  • In 1998, a worker was killed after being run over by a front-end loader.
  • In 1999, an electrician died after falling from a cherry picker basket.
  • In 2000, a worker was killed after being crushed between a rock spreader and a pneumatic roller.
If you’ve suffered injuries as a result of a Minnesota work zone accident, you may be entitled to MN workers’ compensation benefits, including medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, permanent partial disability benefits and rehabilitation benefits. If your loved one was killed in a work zone accident in Minnesota, you and your family may be entitled to MN workers’ compensation death and dependency benefits.

For a free, no-obligation case review, call Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email to speak with one of our workers’ compensation lawyers. Visit us at MeuserLaw.com to learn more about Minnesota workers' compensation.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Most Popular Minnesota Workers' Compensation Articles

Our most recent post was our 100th Minnesota Workers' Compensation blog article!


In case you missed some of our more popular articles from the past, here are the most popular five posts over the last year and a half.
  1. Calculating Permanent Partial Disability (PPD): MN Work Comp
  2. Cortisone Injections, Epidural Steroid Injections, and Other Therapeutic Injections for Work Injuries
  3. Spinal Disc Herniation Injuries
  4. Calculating Your Average Weekly Wage (AWW)
  5. Work-Related Rotator Cuff Tears
Visit us at MeuserLaw.com!

Forklift Accidents and MN Workers’ Comp.

Forklifts are extremely important and useful machines in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, warehousing, production, steelwork, construction, factories, and shipping industries. Unfortunately, forklift accidents are all too common, and often result in serious or catastrophic injuries to workers.

Each year, about 100 workers are killed in the United States, and an additional 20,000 are seriously injured in forklift accidents. Forklift accidents can be caused by:
  • Tipping over. Carrying loads that are too heavy can cause a forklift to overturn. Forklift overturns are the most common cause of fatalities involving forklifts. Forklifts that tip over can crush nearby workers, or crush the worker operating the forklift.
  • Falling objects. Forklift drivers can be seriously injured or killed by objects falling and hitting the driver while operating a forklift. If the forklift is operated in a confined area, the risk of hitting something with the forklift or with the load, which then falls onto the driver is magnified. Falling loads can also seriously injure or kill workers who are near the forklift. 
  • Driver Ejection. Falling from a forklift is one of the most common causes of forklift fatalities for workers. 
  • Being struck by a forklift. Another common cause of forklift-related deaths is when a nearby worker is struck by a forklift. This can happen when a worker fails to notice an oncoming forklift, or if the forklift does not have signal alarms. 
  • Lifting workers. Forklifts are not designed to be used to elevate workers. Should the operator lose control, a worker elevated on a forklift can fall and be seriously injured or killed. 
  • Poor Driving Conditions. Poor visibility, narrow pathways, obstructed intersections, obstacles, and unsafe floor or ground conditions can all cause forklift accidents. 
There are several things that employees can do to minimize the risk of forklift accidents:
  1. No unauthorized operators. Forklift operators must have specific training for the type of forklift they are using, the type of materials they are handling, and the type of environment they are working in. Untrained operators are at much greater risk for causing injury to themselves or others when they operate forklifts. In addition, it is illegal for persons under the age of 18 to operate a forklift.
  2. Careful load handling. Operators and workers should stack and secure the load so that it will not shift during transport. When the forklift is in motion, the load should be carried as low as possible. 
  3. Keep clear of the load. A raised load on a forklift is a hazard to anyone close enough to it to be struck if it falls. Forklift operators and other workers need to make sure to stay out from directly under the load, as well as far enough from the sides and the front of the load if the load rolls or the force of trajectory of a moving load forces throws it forward.
  4. Use the correct forklift. Depending on the conditions, i.e., indoor or outdoor; rough terrain or smooth concrete; the size of the load, the forklift must be the appropriate equipment for the situation.
  5. Be aware of the terrain. The terrain affects the balance and handling of a forklift. Rough patches or potholes can cause tip-overs. Forklift operators need to know how to operate on inclines, around corners, and on the specific type of terrain. Workers operating forklift operators need to know how to operate the forklift in different types of weather conditions, such as rain, snow, or ice. 
  6. Maintain visibility. Markings at the edges of loading docks and other areas where forklifts could roll off should be clearly marked and should include other precautions such as guardrails or chains. Forklift operators coming and going from outside to inside should be aware that the change in lighting from sunlight to indoor light can cause visibility difficulties when they first enter a building. Materials at corners should not be so high that a forklift operator’s visibility of the intersection is obstructed. Mirrors should be used to help operators and pedestrians see around corners.
  7. Keep forklift areas separate from pedestrian areas. One of the most common types of forklift accident involves workers who are on foot who are hit by forklifts or falling loads. Where possible, forklifts should be operated in areas separate from workers who are on foot. 
If you’ve been involved in a forklift accident at work in Minnesota, you may be entitled to Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits, including medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, rehabilitation benefits, and permanent partial disability benefits. If you are hurt at work, make sure you receive all the benefits you are entitled to. For a free, no-obligation consultation regarding your workers’ compensation case, contact Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.

Monday, September 27, 2010

What is a Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Functional Capacity Evaluation?

A Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) is a course of objective testing to determine your functional limitations following a work related injury. This testing typically involves an interview to determine what types of conditions you have, both work-related and non-work related, what types of treatment you’ve undergone, the type and intensity of symptoms you are experiencing, and how your symptoms impact your activities of daily living. The testing itself usually takes at least several hours, and may be conducted over the course of a couple days. The testing involves having you perform simulated work tasks such as lifting, pushing and pulling, squatting, overhead activities, and other activities relevant to your conditions.

The goal of this testing is to objectively measure your physical work limitations. Often times, this testing is done after you’ve reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI), to determine your permanent limitations. An FCE report will often list weight lifting limitations, limitations on bending, twisting, pushing, pulling, kneeling, overhead work, or limitations on sitting or standing for prolonged periods.

During the testing, you are not expected to continue to perform activities that cause you pain. However, the goal of the testing is to determine the maximum abilities you are able to perform. It is important to inform the tester when the activities you are performing cause you pain or discomfort. It is also critical that you don’t try to exaggerate your symptoms during the course of the testing. The testers are experts and will absolutely be able to tell if you are exaggerating. If you exaggerate, this will be put in writing in your FCE report. Almost nothing sinks an otherwise legitimate workers’ compensation case than an FCE report which indicates that the injured worker was exaggerating some of his or symptoms.

Your QRC will often use the results of your FCE to help define what types of work are appropriate for you, and to develop a plan to try to get you back to work within those restrictions.

For a free, no-obligation consultation regarding your Minnesota workers’ compensation case, contact Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Continuation of Healthcare Coverage Under Minn. Statute. 299A.465 When You're Over Age 55

Minnesota firefighters and police officers who are disabled in the line of duty may be entitled to duty disability pension benefits under PERA. If you have a disability that is expected to prevent you from performing your normal duties as a police officer or firefighter for a period of at least a year, and if your disability “is the direct result of an injury incurred during, or a disease arising out of, the performance of normal duties or the actual performance of less frequent duties, either of which are specific to protecting the property and personal safety of others and that present inherent dangers that are specific to the positions covered by the public employees police and fire plan,” Minn. Stat. §353.01, Subd. 45 (2009), you may be entitled to these benefits.

In addition, under Minn. Stat. §299A.465, if you qualify for duty disability benefits, you also qualify for continued health insurance through your employer. This means that your employer is responsible for continued payment for your insurance coverage. Obviously, this is a huge benefit, the value of which can exceed tens of thousands of dollars over the course of several years.

Unfortunately, if a PERA member becomes disabled after reaching age 55, he or she is not eligible for duty disability benefits. However, firefighters or police officers who meet the definition of duty disability, but don’t qualify for duty disability benefits because they’ve reached age 55 are still eligible for continued healthcare coverage under Minn. Stat. Sec. 299A.465.

If you’re a Minnesota firefighter or police officer who is disqualified from receiving PERA duty disability benefits because you’ve reached age 55, it is worth submitting an application to PERA for a determination as to whether you qualify for continuation of healthcare coverage under Minn. Stat. §299A.465. Continued employer contributions toward your health insurance until age 65 is worth tens of thousands of dollars, if not more.

Meuser & Associates has represented dozens of police officers and firefighters from all over the state of Minnesota for workers’ compensation claims, and we have helped dozens of police officers and firefighters complete applications for PERA duty disability benefits, appeal unfavorable determinations, and apply for continued healthcare coverage under §299A.465. In fact, Meuser & Associates successfully represented four police officers and firefighters at the Minnesota Court of Appeals regarding disputes over continuation of healthcare coverage.

For a FREE, no-obligation consultation regarding your entitlement to PERA duty disability benefits and/or continuation of healthcare insurance under §299A.465, contact Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email to speak with Ron or Jen.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Minnesota Workers' Comp PPD % Rating: How Much Is It Worth?

Under Minnesota Workers’ compensation law, Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) benefits are payable for the permanent functional loss of use of the body based upon a disability schedule. Often, once an injured worker has reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI), his or her doctor will assign a permanency rating.

If the search statistics are any indication, folks are curious as to the dollar value associated with their permanency ratings.
In Minnesota, since 1984, Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) has been determined using the PPD schedules. Under the schedules, specific types of impairments to each body part are assigned a percentage rating. These ratings are meant to assign a permanent partial disability to the body as a whole based on the specific type of permanent impairment. This percentage is then multiplied times a dollar amount to determine the amount of the PPD benefits. A higher permanency rating is multiplied by a higher dollar amount. Here’s a look at the schedule that applies to injuries that occurred on or after October 1, 2000:

PPD % Amount 
0-5        $75,000
6-10       $80,000
11-15     $85,000
16-20     $90,000
21-25     $95,000
26-30     $100,000
31-35     $110,000
36-40     $120,000
41-45     $130,000
46-50     $140,000
51-55     $165,000
56-60     $190,000
61-65     $215,000
66-70     $240,000
71-75     $265,000
76-80     $315,000
81-85     $365,000
86-90     $415,000
91-95     $465,000
96-100   $515,000

The compensation schedule at the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry website can be somewhat confusing for folks trying to figure this out on their own what the insurance company owes them. For example, I’ve had people inquire as to why the insurance company wasn’t going to pay $80,000.00 for their 10% PPD rating.
Reading the schedule this way makes it seem like PPD ratings between 6-10% result in a benefit of $80,000.00. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Ratings between 6-10% are multiplied by $80,0000.00 to determine the permanency benefit.
Here’s a couple examples of how this math works:
3% PPD (x) $75,000.00 = $2,250.00
5% PPD (x) $75,000.00 = $3,750.00
9% PPD (x) $80,000.00 = $7,200.00
16% PPD (x) $90,000.00 = $14,400.00
24% PPD (x) $95,000.00 = $22,800.00
36% PPD (x) $120,000.00 = $42,200.00
50% PPD (x) $140,000.00 = $70,000.00
75% PPD (x) $265,000.00 = $198,750.00
100% PPD (x) $515,000.00 = $515,000.00
Sometimes, determining permanency is relatively straightforward under the schedules. Other times, however, such as when the type of injury is not specifically addressed in the schedules, if there is disagreement as to the precise diagnosis, if there is a question as to whether the individual had a pre-existing condition, or where multiple body parts are injured, determining permanency may be more complex. As a rule, Minnesota workers’ compensation insurance companies adopt the lowest possible rating.
Our office frequently reviews files of injured workers who don’t think they have any workers’ compensation benefits available, only to discover that the work comp. insurer either did not pay PPD benefits, or underpaid those benefits.
For more information about Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) benefits in Minnesota, check out these previous posts:

MN Work Comp and Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) Benefits

Calculating Permanent Partial Disability (PPD): MN Work Comp

For a free, no-obligation consultation to learn more about Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits, call Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email to speak with one of our Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyers.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Home Health Care Workers and Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Our office has represented several home health care workers for a variety of injuries, including, most recently, a low back injury resulting in surgery, a broken ear drum resulting from an assault, a broken leg resulting from a fall down some stairs, Hepatitis C due to exposure from a client, and a torn rotator cuff from lifting a client.

One thing that we see far too often in handing Minnesota workers compensation cases for injured home health care workers and personal care attendants, is poor handling of the situation on behalf of the employer. In fact, upon receipt of our letter of representation, one employer called and left me a message on my voicemail advising me that she was firing the worker for talking to a lawyer. Bad move on her part, and she left the proverbial “smoking gun” evidence on my voicemail. Not all home health care employers behave this way, but for some reason, it seems to be more prevalent in this field.

I can’t stress enough how many of these workers fall through the cracks of the workers’ compensation system. Too many employers of personal care attendants and home health care workers do not report their injuries, and take inappropriate retaliatory actions against them when they do report them. I would recommend to any Minnesota home health care worker who is injured at work to speak with a Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyer to ensure that their rights are protected.

According to the CDC, in 2007, there were 896,800 home health care workers. Amazingly, among those healthcare workers, there were 27,400 injuries reported. It’s anyone’s guess as to how many injuries were not reported. Some of the injuries resulted from unintentional needlesticks, latex allergies, and violence. The most common injuries, however, were sprains, strains, and other musculoskeletal injuries related to lifting and moving patients. The rate of patient lifting injuries in 2007 among healthcare workers was 20.5 per 10,000.

Unfortunately, persons with mobility problems are often not furnished with lifting equipment or adjustable beds. Moreover, nurses, aides, hospice care workers, and other in-home care providers typically work in the client’s home alone. Moving patients by themselves, in cramped quarters, and without lifting equipment is an injury waiting to happen. In fact, research indicates that assistive devices should be used to lift more than 35 pounds of a patient’s weight.

Some examples of ergonomic assistive devices to reduce the incidence of overexertion and musculoskeletal injuries among home healthcare providers include hoists, rolling toileting and showering chairs, grab bars, adjustable beds, raised toilet seats, and slip sheets.

Reducing musculoskeletal injuries involves ergonomic planning to make it physically easier for in-home health care providers to do their jobs. Employers may wish to consult with professional in patient care to evaluate whether and when assistive devices should be used. They should also provide ergonomics training for providers, evaluate each patient-care plan to determine whether ergonomic assistive devices are needed, and reassess the training, the care plan, and the assistive devices to determine their effectiveness.

In order to avoid injuries, home healthcare providers should use ergonomic devices when they are available to avoid manual patient handling, and to use proper body mechanics when manual patient handling is necessary.

Home health care workers are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured in the course and scope of their employment. These benefits include medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, permanency benefits, and rehabilitation benefits. If you are a home health care worker who sustains an injury on the job, make sure you get the benefits you are entitled to.

For a free, no-obligation with one of our Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyers, call Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.

Visit us at MeuserLaw.com for more information about Minnesota Workers' Compensation.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries Caused by MN Car Accidents and Work Injuries

Even minor damage to the spinal cord can result in catastrophic injury. Approximately 250,000 Americans currently live with a significant spinal cord injury. Of these Americans, 52% suffer from paraplegia, which means they have suffered a spinal cord injury in the thoracic (mid-back) or lumbar (low back) area, and 47% suffer from quadriplegia, which means they have significant injury to their spinal cord in the cervical (neck) spine. It is estimated that about 12,000 people per year suffer spinal cord injuries.

Spinal cord injuries refer to damage to the spinal cord, which results in paralysis, impairment in normal functioning, decreased mobility, and loss of sensation. Most spinal cord injuries are caused in work-related accidents (28%) or motor vehicle accidents (24%).

Symptoms of spinal cord injury include:
  • Loss of sensation and movement;
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control;
  • Back pain or neck pain;
  • Difficulty breathing;
  • Weakness;
  • Paralysis;
  • Numbness in extremities;
Different levels of the spine control different functions in the body. As a result, the level at which the spinal cord injury occurs is usually determinative as to the level of impairment.

Cervical Injuries

Cervical (neck) injuries usually result in full or partial tetraplegia (Quadriplegia).
  • C3 vertebrae and above : Typically results in loss of diaphragm function, necessitating the use of a ventilator for breathing.
  • C4 : Results in significant loss of function at the biceps and shoulders.
  • C5 : Results in potential loss of function at the shoulders and biceps, and complete loss of function at the wrists and hands.
  • C6 : Results in limited wrist control, and complete loss of hand function.
  • C7 and T1 : Results in lack of dexterity in the hands and fingers, but allows for limited use of arms. C7 is generally the threshold level for retaining functional independence.
Thoracic injuries

Injuries at or below the thoracic spinal levels result in paraplegia. Function of the hands, arms, neck, and breathing is usually not affected.
  • T1 to T8 : Results in the inability to control the abdominal muscles. Accordingly, trunk stability is affected. The lower the level of injury, the less severe the effects.
  • T9 to T12 : Results in partial loss of trunk and abdominal muscle control.
Lumbar and Sacral injuries

The effects of injuries to the lumbar or sacral regions of the spinal cord are decreased control of the legs and hips, urinary system, and anus.

If you’ve sustained a spinal injury as a result of a work-injury or car accident, contact Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email, for a free, no-obligation consultation. Make sure you get the benefits you are entitled to.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dangers of Arc Flash and Arc Flash Prevention: Minnesota Workers’ Compensation

An arc flash is a short circuit through the air. In an arc flash incident, enormous amounts of concentrated energy explodes outward from electrical equipment. Arc flash is extraordinarily dangerous. Five to ten arc flash explosions occur in electrical equipment every day in the United States. Exposure to an arc flash often results in multiple, serious injuries of workers, and in some cases, arc flash leads to their death. Each year, more than 2,000 workers are treated for severe burns as a result of arc flash injuries. Medical treatment for workers severely injured in arc flash incidents can exceed $1 million.

Arc flash occurs when electrical current flows between two or more separated energized conducting surfaces. It can be caused by:
  • Insulation failure.
  • Buildup of dust, impurities, and corrosion on insulating surfaces, which can provide a path for current.
  • Equipment failure due to use of substandard parts, improper installation, or even normal, wear and tear.
  • Birds, insects, and rodents chewing off leads at connections.
  • Human error, including dropped tools, accidental contact with electrical systems, and improper work procedures.
The outward explosion of energy during an arc flash can create enormous pressure waves strong enough to damage hearing, fracture ribs, collapse lungs, or knock workers down. The pressure waves can also send loose materials, such as pieces of damaged equipment, tools, or other objects through the air at speeds in excess of 700 miles per hour. If these items strike a worker, it can easily cause catastrophic injury or death. A high intensity flash can also cause damage to eyesight. An arc flash can also create a ball of gas with temperatures in excess of 5,000 degrees which can ignite clothing and cause severe burns.

Precautions can be taken to reduce the likelihood of arc flash injuries. Whenever possible, employees should de-energize equipment before beginning work. If it is necessary to work on energized equipment, employees should follow safe work practices, should use appropriate tools, and should wear proper personal protective equipment. Depending on the risk involved, appropriate personal protective equipment might include flame-resistant clothing, helmet or headgear, face shield, safety glasses, insulating gloves, and shoes appropriate for electrical work.

If you or a loved one has been injured at work as a result of an arc flash accident, you may wish to enlist the services of a Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyer. You may be entitled to a variety of benefits, including medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, permanency benefits, and rehabilitation benefits. If your loved one died as the result of an arc flash accident, you may be eligible for death and dependency benefits. If your injuries are severe, you should focus on getting better. A Minnesota workers’ compensation can help take the stress out of dealing with the insurance company, and can help guide you through the maze of the workers’ compensation system. Keep in mind that in a Minnesota workers’ compensation case, there are no attorney fees unless there is a dispute, and unless we win for you. If the workers’ compensation insurance company pays all appropriate benefits, there are no attorney fees.

To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyers, call Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.

Visit us at MeuserLaw.com to learn more about Minnesota Workers' Compensation.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Explosion and Fires at Black Dog Plant in Burnsville, MN Injures Three Firefighters

Firefighters from three departments responded to a call at the Black Dog Power Plant in Burnsville at about 7:30 this morning when workers discovered a fire in a coal bin. Just after 8:00 a.m., there was an explosion that blew off the side of one of the plant’s buildings.

KSTP reports that no Xcel Energy workers were injured, but three firefighters suffered minor injuries while fighting the fire.

Obviously, any of the firefighters injured while fighting this fire are entitled to workers’ compensation for their injuries. I’m just grateful to read that no one was seriously injured or killed. It doesn’t appear that the cause of the fire and explosion has been made public yet.

The dangers associated with fires and explosions are tremendous. According to the Bureau of Labor fires and explosions accounted for 3% of workplace fatalities in 2007.

More than half of the electricity generated in the United States comes from coal. For the foreseeable future, coal will continue to be the dominant fuel used for electric power production.

Coal-based energy production poses specific dangers to workers, specifically the risk of coal dust explosion. Particle sizes of coal which can fuel a propagating explosion occur within thermal dryers, cyclones, baghouses, pulverized-fuel systems, grinding mills, and other process or conveyance equipment.

If you or a loved one sustained injuries as the result of a power plant fire or explosion in Minnesota, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. For a free, no-obligation consultation to learn about your rights, contact us at Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email to speak with one of our Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyers.

What Do You Want Be When You Grow Up? – Minnesota Workers’ Compensation and Retraining Benefits

Are you disabled due to a Minnesota work injury and can't go back to your job? Do you need to learn new skills to compete in this job market? If so, you may be eligible for Minnesota workers' compensation retraining benefits.

If you sustain a work-related injury in Minnesota, you may be eligible for vocational rehabilitation services if 1) you need help returning to work because of your injury, and 2) your employer is unable to offer you suitable gainful employment within your work restrictions. Vocational rehab services are coordinated between you, your employer/insurer, and your Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant (QRC). These services can include, but are not limited to: 1) modifying your job duties to fit your abilities, 2) finding work with a different employer if yours does not have suitable work available, and 3) training for a new job.

You can request vocational rehabilitation assistance at any time by contacting your workers’ compensation insurance company, and requesting a rehabilitation consultation. If you have a workers’ compensation lawyer, your lawyer may request the assistance of a QRC on your behalf.

Your rehabilitation plan may include retraining. Retraining is a formal course of study designed to assist an injured worker’s return to suitable gainful employment.

For dates of injury from October 1, 1995 through September 30, 2000, you must file a request for retraining with the Department of Labor and Industry before you receive 104 weeks of temporary total disability and/or temporary partial disability benefits. For dates of injury between October 1, 2000, and September 30, 2008, you must file a request for retraining before 156 weeks of temporary total disability and/or temporary partial disability. For dates of injury on or after October 1, 2008, you must file a request for retraining before 208 weeks of temporary total disability and/or temporary partial disability benefits.

Your Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant (QRC) is responsible for preparing your retraining plan. The plan must be approved by the insurer and by the Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry.

In addition to receiving training or education to assist you in returning to suitable gainful employment, if you are approved for a retraining plan, you may also be eligible for payment of retraining benefits for up to 156 weeks. Retraining benefits are monetary benefits that are essentially the same as temporary total disability benefits.

The Minnesota Supreme Court has held that retraining is necessary if it will materially assist the employee in restoring an impaired earning capacity. Nordby v. Arctic Enter., Inc., 232 N.W.2d 773 (1975). Factors that are considered in determining eligibility for retraining include:
  • The reasonableness of retraining compared to the employee’s return to work with the employer or through job placement activities;
  • The likelihood of the employee succeeding in a formal course of study given the employee’s abilities and interests;
  • The likelihood that retraining will result in a reasonably attainable employment; and
  • The likelihood that retraining will produce an economic status as close as possible to that which the employee would have enjoyed without the disability.
If you and your QRC decide to explore retraining as an option to help you get back to work, you will typically undergo vocationally testing, including aptitude testing and interest testing to determine whether you have the requisite intellectual ability to complete a proposed course of study, and to determine appropriate fields of study. A labor market study is also done to determine the current and future availability of jobs in the proposed area of retraining. This is particularly important given the poor job market right now. A determination will also be made as to whether you are physically capable of performing work in the proposed area of retraining. After these things have been completed, a proposed retraining plan must be developed and filed with the Department of Labor and Industry, which contains the following information:
  • Identifying information on the employee, employer, insurer, and QRC;
  • The rehabilitation goals;
  • Information about the formal course of study required by the retraining plan, including the name of the school, titles of classes, the courses length in weeks, an itemized cost of tuition, books, and other necessary school charges, mileage costs and other required costs;
  • Starting and completion dates;
  • Pre-injury job title and economic status, including, but not limited to, pre-injury wage;
  • A narrative rationale describing the reasons why retraining is proposed, including a summary comparative analysis of other rehabilitation alternatives and information documenting the likelihood that the proposed retraining plan will result in the employee’s return to suitable, gainful employment;
  • Dated signatures by the parties signifying an agreement to the retraining plan; and
  • An attached copy of the published course syllabus, physical requirements of the work for which retraining will prepare the employee, medical documentation that the proposed training and field of work is within the employee’s physical restrictions, reports of all vocational testing or evaluations, and a recent labor market study of the field for which training is proposed.
The Commissioner reviews the proposed training plan within 30 days of its submission and notifies the parties of plan approval or denial. A party who disagrees with a decision of the Commissioner about rehabilitation may request a formal hearing.

As you may have ascertained, retraining programs are expensive. If you are approved for retraining, not only does the insurer have to pay for the cost of the educational program itself and all incidental expenses, such as text books, but you may also be entitled to monetary “retraining benefits” for the duration of the plan, up to a maximum of 156 weeks. This is in addition to any wage loss benefits the insurer had to pay prior to the initiation of the retraining plan, and in addition to any additional wage loss benefits you may be entitled to after completion of the plan. Given the extensive costs associated with retraining benefits, it is rare indeed for a workers’ compensation insurer to voluntarily agree to a proposed retraining program for an injured worker.

If you are interested in retraining benefits, ask your QRC about your eligibility. If you’re off work due to a Minnesota workers’ compensation injury, and you don’t have a QRC assisting you, contact us and we can help you get in contact with a QRC for an initial consultation.

For a free, no-obligation consultation contact Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email to speak with one of our workers’ compensation attorneys for a free case evaluation.

Visit MeuserLaw.com for more information about Minnesota Workers' Compensation.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Minnesota Workers’ Compensation, Statute of Limitations

Often injured workers in Minnesota think too much time has passed in order to bring a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, or to dispute the work comp. insurer’s denial of liability. The statute of limitations sets a time limit on the length of time within which you can commence an action for workers’ compensation benefits.

The rationale behind the statute of limitations is to prevent a claimant from delaying a suit for Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits for an unreasonable length of time, forcing the defendant to defend itself against a “stale” claim.

If a claim is brought years after the fact, there are evidentiary problems, including medical records that are no longer available, witnesses that are no longer available, and the inability of the parties to accurately recall the facts.

Minnesota Statute §175.151(1) provides that an employee must bring an action or proceeding to determine or recover compensation within three years if the employer filed a First Report of Injury with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

The statute begins to run from date the report of injury was received by the Department of Labor and Industry.

If the employer did not file a first report of injury, the statute provides a six year statute of limitations. The statute begins to run from the date of the injury.

For dependency claims related to a workers’ death, a claim must be commenced within three years after the Department of Labor and industry receives written notice of the death from the employer. If the employer did not file a report of death, a claim for dependency benefits must be brought within six years of the date of the injury, if no benefits were paid for the injury which caused the death. If workers’ compensation benefits were paid for the injury, but no report of death was filed, the six year statute of limitations on dependency claims runs from the date of the death.

Commencement of a claim for workers’ compensation benefits usually occurs with the filing of a Claim Petition. This must be done before the statute of limitations runs.

If your Minnesota workers’ compensation claim was admitted, or if the employer/insurer paid any benefits on your claim, there is no statute of limitations, although it is better to bring a claim sooner rather than later if there is a dispute because proving your claim gets more difficult the greater the time between your original injury and the time you bring a claim.

Don’t wait to consult with a workers’ compensation lawyer until the day before the statute of limitations runs out! Nothing frustrates me more than speaking with an injured worker who waited too long to speak with a workers’ compensation lawyer. A couple months ago I spoke with a gentleman who had seriously injured his back when he fell down an embankment while working with a landscaping company about seven years ago. He had just started with the company and didn’t want to rock the boat by bringing a workers’ compensation claim, and the employer didn’t report it, despite the fact that his supervisor took him to the hospital after he fell. He only lasted with that company for a few more months, before his back pain became debilitating. He subsequently underwent a three level fusion surgery on his low back, and has, more or less, been completely off work since then. By the time he spoke with us, the statute of limitations had run on his claim. There was nothing we could do for him.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to report your work-related injuries. Some folks are worried about employer retaliation for making a workers’ compensation claim, which is a completely legitimate concern. But, are you still going to be working for that same employer in two years, five years, ten years? Are they going to care if the pain from your injury becomes disabling? Are they going to care if you can’t find a job that’s suitable given your physical limitations? Are they going to care if you don’t have insurance to pay for the medical treatment you need for your work injury?

Even if you think too much time has passed to bring a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, it is still a good idea to speak with a workers’ compensation lawyer. In many cases, we discover that either 1) the employer/insurer did pay some benefits, or 2) we are able to avoid the statute of limitations if you had an aggravation or re-injury.

For a free, no-obligation consultation on your Minnesota workers’ compensation case, call Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email to speak with one of our workers’ compensation attorneys.

Visit our workers' compensation website at MeuserLaw.com!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Minnesota Work Comp. and Auger Injuries

On July 21, 2010, a worker in Fort Myers, Florida, was tragically killed when he fell into an auger while working on a residential pool construction project.

Augers are used in the agricultural, landscaping, construction, and utility industries. They are commonly used to drill holes for pilings, utility poles, light poles and fence posts. The auger may be mounted on a variety of equipment or vehicles that may be ridden on or walked behind.

Augers present an extreme danger of entrapment or entanglement, as well as hazards that occur when an auger strikes materials beneath or above the surface. In addition to contact with hidden landscape fabric, contact with underground utility installations such as gas, fuel, or electric lines or overhead power lines such as electrical distribution and transmission lines also could result in a fatal accident. According to OSHA's Integrated Management Information System (IMIS), since 1987 at least thirteen fatalities have resulted from entanglement or crushing hazards involving augers. The IMIS data also indicate that a number of fatal accidents have occurred from contact with underground and overhead electrical equipment and utility lines.

OSHA recommends the following safety measures to avoid serious or catastrophic injuries involving augers:
  • Follow the instructions in the manufacturer's operating and preventive maintenance manual.
  • Conduct daily pre-task meetings to ensure that all employees are aware of the correct procedures to prevent an unwanted incident and any hazards associated with the job task.
  • Look for obstacles that may need to be removed. Hand digging may verify the presence or absence of underground material, including utilities.
  • Prior to drilling, cut a hole in the landscape fabric sufficiently larger than the diameter of the auger to prevent contact or entanglement with the fabric.
  • Except for the operator, employees should not be near the auger when it is operating.
  • Employees using hand tools should not move or remove spoil-pile while the auger is operating.
  • The operator should sit or stand at the operator's station while operating the auger.
  • Do not modify the operator's station or disable safety controls beyond manufacturer's recommendations (for example: hold-to-run or seat switch controls).
  • Remain a safe distance (a minimum of 10 feet) from the auger when helping the operator.
If you sustained an injury on the job involving an auger, you may be entitled to Minnesota Workers’ Compensation benefits, including medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, and rehabilitation benefits. If your loved one died as a result of a Minnesota auger accident, you may be entitled to death and dependency benefits. To ensure you receive all the benefits you are entitled to, contact a Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyer for a free, no-obligation consultation.

To schedule your free, no-obligation case consultation with one of our Minnesota work comp. attorneys, call Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.

To learn more about Minnesota Workers' Compensation, visit us at MeuserLaw.com!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Causes of Thoracic Herniated Discs – MN Workers’ Comp.

Back injuries are the most common work-related injuries we see in our Minnesota Workers' Compensation practice.

Your upper and middle spine is known as the thoracic spine. When the inner core of a disc extrudes and irritates a nearby spinal nerve root, it causes a herniated disc. A thoracic herniated disc can cause upper back pain and other symptoms, including radiating pain and numbness.

The most common location for thoracic disc disorders is at the thoracolumbar junction (T8-T12), which is the area between the thoracic and lumbar areas of the back.

Interestingly, many people without back pain symptoms have disc abnormalities in the thoracic spine. In one study, 90 asymptomatic people were evaluated with thoracic MRI scans. 73% of patients were found to have disc abnormalities in the upper back, such as a thoracic herniated disc or thoracic degenerative disc disease. 37% specifically had a thoracic herniated disc, and 26% had evidence of spinal cord impingement.

If a thoracic herniated disc is causing your upper back pain, it can typically be classified as caused by either 1) degenerative disc disease, or 2) trauma to the upper back.

Degenerative disc disease. Many thoracic herniated discs occur from gradual wear and tear on the disc, which leads to settling of the vertebral bodies and calcification of the disc space. Most commonly, the symptoms of thoracic herniated discs due to degenerative disc disease manifest between ages 30 and 50, and develop gradually. Often, by the time a patient presents to a doctor for thoracic pain, the symptoms had been present for quite some time beforehand.

Trauma to the Upper Back. Traumatic herniated discs are associated with a single traumatic event that caused the abrupt onset of symptoms. Any injury that causes a high degree of sudden force on the discs in the upper spine could lead to a thoracic herniated discs, such as a fall or a sports injury. Thoracic herniated discs caused by trauma are most often seen in younger patients. Often, however, less severe trauma to the thoracic spine can cause an aggravation or a worsening to pre-existing degenerative disc disease of the thoracic spine.

Unfortunately, thoracic spine injuries can be somewhat contentious in Minnesota workers' compensation, because they can be difficult to diagnose, and the injured worker often has underlying degenerative disc disease. If you need assistance with your Minnesota workers' compensation claim, contact a workers' compensation attorney for a free case consultation.

If you have back pain that was caused by your work in Minnesota, you may be eligible for work comp. benefits. For a free, no-obligation case evaluation, call Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email for a free consultation with one of our Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyers.

Visit us at MeuserLaw.com to learn more about Minnesota workers' compensation.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Three Easy Tips to Avoid Back Injuries at Work While Lifting

Back injuries are by far the most common injuries we see in our Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Law Practice. If you sustain a back injury, you may incur medical bills, you may miss work, and most importantly, you may be in pain. If you sustain an injury in the course and scope of your employment in Minnesota, workers’ compensation provides you with various benefits to help you get back on your feet, including medical benefits, wage loss benefits, permanency benefits, and rehabilitation benefits.

The majority of work-related back injuries involve lifting. A lifting-related back injury can cause muscle injury, when too much stress on the back muscles during a lift cause tiny tears which is known as a muscle strain or sprain. Muscle injuries to the back can be very painful, and can make it difficult to move normally. Thankfully, muscle strains and sprains typically heal. Lifting injuries to the back can also cause disc injuries. Intervertebral discs act like ball bearings and cushions between the vertebrae in the spine. Discs are fibrous rings which can bulge, tear, or rupture when they are injured. A disc injury may cause low back pain which radiates down into the buttocks and/or into the leg. Improper lifting can also cause injury to the joints in the back. These joints may become irritated, or they may become “locked.”

From Spine Health, here are three easy rules to avoid back injury during lifting activities:

1. Keep the chest forward. Bend at the hips, not your low back. Bending at the knees alone will not keep your back straight. Instead, keep your chest pointing forward to keep your back straight. The back muscles will then be used most effectively for maintaining good posture.

As an example, we represented a Minnesota paramedic who was lifting a patient on a stretcher. There was a mis-communication between our client and her partner who was lifting the other end of the stretcher, so when the lift started, she was hunched over and did not have her knees bent. She sustained a disc injury that ultimately required surgery.

2. Lead with the hips, not the shoulders. Twisting during lift is an easy way to injure our back. Your shoulders should be kept in line with your hips to avoid twisting movements. Leading with your shoulders allows your lower back and pelvis to twist, which can cause injury to the low back and pelvis.

Our office represented a warehouse worker who was palletizing boxes of product. He twisted as he was moving a box of product from the production line to the pallet and sustained a severe strain/sprain to his back. Thankfully, his condition resolved with conservative treatment.

3. Keep the weight close to the body. The farther an object is held from one’s center of gravity, the more force that is required to hold the object up. This extra force will also run through the low back. The closer you hold an object to yourself when lifting, the less force that is required, and the less likely you are to injure your back.

We assisted a gentleman who was a desk attendant at a hotel. He went to retrieve luggage for a customer, and stretched out, around a doorway to grab the handle of the luggage. The bag was much heavier than he expected, and he sustained an injury to his low back. He is currently undergoing a variety of conservative treatments to try to resolve his back and leg pain without undergoing surgery.

If you’ve sustained a lifting injury to your back in the course and scope of your employment, you may be entitled to Minnesota Workers’ Compensation benefits. Contact us at Meuser & Associates, by calling us at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email for a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our MN workers’ compensation attorneys.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Highway 14, One of Minnesota’s Most Dangerous Highways

I ran across a story on Minnesota Public Radio’s website about the number of car accidents on a 24-mile stretch of Highway 14 between Mankato and New Ulm. Apparently, since 2000, 25 people have died in car accidents along this stretch of highway. The fatality rate along this stretch of road is 94 percent higher than the state average.

Surprisingly, there are no plans in the foreseeable future for any road MN DOT improvements in the area. Read more about this dangerous stretch of highway here.

No matter if you’re driving this stretch of Highway 14, or any other road in Minnesota, be safe! Common sense tips can help you avoid an accident:

Don’t Speed. Driving at a rate of speed that is faster than what is reasonable under the circumstances puts in you danger in two ways. First, it decreases your reaction time if you have to respond or take evasive action, and second, the added speed creates additional force, which means an impact that occurs at a higher speed happens with a greater amount of force.

Don’t Drive Impaired. Whether it be alcohol, drugs, fatigue, or driver distraction, these things decrease your ability to drive safely.

Buckle Up. Seat belts provide impact protection, absorb crash force, and prevent you from being thrown from the vehicle.

Click here for more safe driving tips.

If you’ve suffered injuries as the result of a car accident, contact Meuser & Associates, P.A., for a free, no-obligation consultation to learn about your rights. Call us at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email to speak with one of our attorneys.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Machine Guards -- Keeping Minnesota Manufacturing Workers Safe

Machines that bend, form, or cut metal or wood, such as punch presses, brake presses, metal stamps, lathes, saws, or drill presses, are obviously powerful enough to cause serious damage to human flesh and bone.

Manufacturing workers who sustain serious injuries in machine accidents most commonly suffer amputations, lacerations, crush injuries, fractures, or de-gloving injuries.

OSHA requires that guarding must be provided to protect operators and other employees in the machine area from hazards such as those created by the point of operation, ingoing nip points, rotating parts, flying chips, and sparks. OSHA specifically requires that shears, power presses, milling machines, and power saws have guarding at the point of operation, or the area where work is performed on the material being processed. These kinds of machines are most often involved in amputation injuries.

Machine injuries are usually caused by:
  • Contact or entanglement with machinery
  • Being trapped between the machine and material or fixed structure
  • Contact with material in motion
  • Being struck by ejected parts of machinery
  • Being struck by material ejected from machine
  • Release of potential energy
Safeguards should meet the following five minimum requirements:

Prevent contact: The safeguard must prevent hands, arms, and any other part of a operator's body from making contact with dangerous moving parts. A good safeguarding system eliminates the possibility of the operator or another worker placing parts of their bodies near hazardous moving parts.

Secure: Operators should not be able to easily remove or tamper with the safeguard, because a safeguard that can easily be made ineffective is no safeguard at all. Guards and safety devices should be made of durable material that will withstand the conditions of normal use. They must be firmly secured to the machine.

Protect from falling objects: The safeguard should ensure that no objects can fall into moving parts. A small tool dropped into a cycling machine could easily become a projectile that could strike and injure someone.

Create no new hazards: A safeguard defeats its own purpose if it creates a hazard such as a shear point, a jagged edge, or an unfinished surface that could cause a laceration. The edges of guards, for instance, should be rolled or bolted in such a way to eliminate sharp edges.
Create no interference: Any safeguard that impedes an operator from performing the job quickly and comfortably might soon be overridden or disregarded. Proper safeguarding may actually enhance efficiency since it relieves the operator's apprehensions about injury.

Allow safe lubrication: If possible, workers should be able to lubricate the machine without removing the safeguards. Locating oil reservoirs outside the guard, with a line leading to the lubrication point, will reduce the need for the operator or maintenance operator to enter the hazardous area.

To avoid catastrophic injury, keep these general guidelines in mind:
  • Check that guards are in place at all points where you could contact moving parts before turning the machine on.
  • Report any missing or malfunctioning guards. Never use a machine with a missing or malfunctioning guard. Shut the machine down and tag it out. Do not use it again until the problem is fixed.
  • Use lockout/tagout procedures when guards must be removed to repair or service a machine.
  • Check machines after repair or maintenance to be sure guards are back in place and working properly.
If you’re a Minnesota worker who’s been injured due to a machine accident, you are most likely entitled to Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits, including medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, and/or rehabilitation benefits.

Make sure you protect your rights if you are injured on the job. For a free, no-obligation consultation to learn more about your Minnesota workers’ compensation rights contact Meuser & Associates toll free at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Increased Costs for Neck and Back Injuries Equals Increased Denials on Minnesota Workers' Compensation Claims

Apparently, there’s a new study that suggests that more U.S. health care dollars are spent on back pain and neck pain than almost any other medical condition. After adjusting for inflation, medical costs associated with back and neck pain increased by 65% between 1997 and 2005, to about $86 billion a year.

Back injuries are the most common work-related injury we see in our Minnesota workers’ compensation law practice. In one survey, one in four adults reported low back pain within the previous year.

According to a study published in the Feb. 13 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, the estimated annual individual expenditures among adults with back and neck problems were $4,695 in 1997 and $6,096 in 2005.

Some of the largest increases in costs related to neck and back treatment relates to prescription drugs. Pharmaceutical expenses related to back and neck pain increased by 188% between 1997 and 2005, and the cost of prescription narcotics increased 423%.

So what does this mean for Minnesota workers who have neck and back injuries? From what we have been seeing over the past couple years, it appears that workers’ compensation insurance adjusters are more aggressive in claim denials to reduce their per-claim expenditures, whether it be in their denials of primary liability, or in denying various treatments, including MRI’s, prescriptions, cortisone injections, or surgery for back and neck injuries.

Don’t ignore disputes over medical expenses with your workers’ compensation insurer!

If you are having difficulty procuring the medical treatment you need for your Minnesota workers’ compensation injury, contact Meuser & Associates, P.A., at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email for a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyers.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Are You Really an Independent Contractor? Construction Workers and Minnesota Workers’ Compensation

Effective January 1, 2009, the Minnesota legislature changed the law as it pertains to defining who is an “independent contractor” in the construction trades for purposes of workers’ compensation, unemployment, income tax, and other laws.

In order to be considered an “independent contractor” under the new statute, an individual construction worker must hold a valid Independent Contractor Exemption Certificate, and meet nine additional factors:
  1. maintains a separate business with the individual's own office, equipment, materials, and other facilities;
  2. holds or has applied for a federal employer identification number or has filed business or self employment income tax returns with the federal Internal Revenue Service if the person has performed services in the previous year for which the individual is seeking the independent contractor exemption certificate;
  3. operates under contracts to perform specific services for specific amounts of money and under which the individual controls the means of performing the services;
  4. incurs the main expenses related to the service that the individual performs under contract;
  5. is responsible for the satisfactory completion of services that the individual contracts to perform and is liable for a failure to complete the service;
  6. receives compensation for service performed under a contract on a commission or per-job or competitive bid basis and not on any other basis;
  7. may realize a profit or suffer a loss under contracts to perform service;
  8. has continuing or recurring business liabilities or obligations;
  9. the success or failure of the individual's business depends on the relationship of business receipts to expenditures.

Most paid-per-hour construction laborers will not meet these factors.

Under Minnesota Workers’ compensation law, a construction worker who is an independent contractor who is hurt on the job is not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, including medical benefits, wage loss benefits, permanency benefits, and rehabilitation/retraining benefits.
Unfortunately, due to the economic crash, particularly in the housing market, commercial and residential construction contractors are suffering financially. Some less scrupulous contractors, in an effort to cut cost corners, are hiring construction laborers, and calling them “independent contractors.” They do this so as to avoid paying for workers’ compensation insurance, income tax, unemployment tax, and complying with certain OSHA requirements. With so many construction workers out of work for the last couple years, more and more are forced to look to these less reputable contractors for employment.

I routinely see advertisements for construction workers wanted on Craigslist that require you to agree that you will be an “independent contractor,” although it is pretty clear that you’d actually be an employee under the law. Here’s a couple examples:

Concrete and repairs (SW Hennepin County)
Small concrete company looking for good people. Must show pride in workmanship and be dependable. Need to be independent contractor with EIN, but can help get you started. Must live close by. Flat work experience a plus, can train for ICFs and decorative. My interviews take a day or two of work; try it see if you like it and are a fit for our small crew. You will be paid cash for the day or two. If it works out compensation is flexible.
Painter (Entire metro)
Im looking for a painter for some part time possibly full time work. Need to have an LLC. Let me know what you have for experience, tools, vehicle, what part of town you live in and wage desired. Thanks.
Shingler or Clean up guy ASAP Join a Crew (Stillwater)
We are looking for an experienced shingler to join our crew or a guy for tear off and clean up. Unexperienced will get $15.00/hr. and experienced roofer with get $20.00/hr. Must have valid drivers lic. with own transportation. Must have General Liability insurance must be LLC, Inc, or have your independent contractor exemption certificate. Please email or call 651-***-****.
Independent framers needed (Edina/Chaska)
I still have a need for more framing carpenters, must have your own insurance, the only tools you need is your tool belt. You can start tomorrow. Please send your company info and compensation requirements.
PROCEED WITH CAUTION. I have personally seen several construction contractors in the Twin Cities Metro area trying to get new hires to sign paperwork stating that they are independent contractors, and that they are either a LLC (Limited Liability Corporation), or that they have an Independent Contractors Exemption Certificate from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. In order to be considered an independent contractor for purposes of workers’ compensation, and other laws, a construction worker MUST have an Independent Contractors Exemption Certificate. In fact, state law prohibits working as an independent contractor unless you have first obtained the Exemption Certificate. The law also prohibits a person from hiring a someone as an “independent contractor” unless they have the Independent Contractors Exemption Certificate.

Now, let’s say you suffer an injury working for one of these unscrupulous contractors. You don’t have an Independent Contractors Exemption Certificate because you won’t qualify for one, but your employer makes you sign something stating that you are an independent contractor. Are you out of luck? No, I don’t think so.

Several of the forms I’ve seen contractors using to try to get around this law require the applicant to affirm that he or she does have an Independent Contractors Exemption Certificate. The law, however, requires the person hiring the “independent contractor” to retain a copy of the person’s Exemption Certificate for five years. So, if the hiring contractor never asks to actually see a copy of your Exemption Certificate, or checks the Department of Labor and Industry website to see if you are listed as a valid Exemption Certificate holder, it’s pretty hard for them to claim after the fact that they thought you really did have an Exemption Certificate when you did not.

Since this law is relatively new, there’s little case law guidance to tell us workers’ compensation lawyers how a workers’ compensation judge would decide such a case. I’m inclined to think that most construction workers in this situation would be considered employees for purposes of Minnesota workers’ compensation law, which means you would be entitled to benefits if you sustain an on-the-job injury.

To read more about the requirements for the Independent Contractor Exemption Certificate, check out the following:

1. Minnesota Statute §181.723
2. Fact Sheet from the MN Department of Labor & Industry
3. My previous post on this topic
4. The Independent Contractor Exemption Certificate application form
5. Brochure from the MN Department of Labor & Industry
6. FAQ from the Department of Labor & Industry
7. Factsheet from the Dept. of Labor & Industry

These bad economic times have hit the construction industry particularly hard. Hundreds and hundreds of skilled Minnesota construction workers have been out of work for a long time. As tempting as it is to take a job through one of these companies that try to get around the new Independent Contractor rules, keep in mind that it is against the law. Moreover, $10.00 cash per hour is probably not worth it, if you are actually complying with the law, i.e., reporting your earnings and paying the full state and federal tax on your earnings, paying unemployment compensation, paying social security, paying for workers’ compensation insurance, and paying for liability insurance. Moreover, it’s probably not worth risking the fines you may be subjecting yourself to if you get caught working as an independent contractor without a valid certificate, risking a serious on-the-job injury with questionable workers’ compensation coverage, risking tax penalties, or risking a lawsuit with no insurance when the contractor gets sued for something.

That being said, if you were hurt doing residential or commercial construction work after January 1, 2009, and you were told by your employer that you were an “independent contractor,” so you couldn’t make a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, you should definitely contact a Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyer.

For a free, confidential, no-obligation, consultation with one of our lawyers to see if you have a workers’ compensation claim for on-the-job injuries you sustained doing residential or commercial construction as an “independent contractor,” call Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.

Visit us at MeuserLaw.com to learn more about Minnesota Workers' Compensation.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Rehabilitation Assistance for Workers When Your Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Claim is Denied

If you have a work related injury in Minnesota, but the employer/insurer is denying your claim or disputing medical causation on your claim, and you need assistance returning to work, you may be eligible for the assistance of a Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant (QRC) through the Department of Labor and Industry’s Vocational Rehabilitation Unit (VRU).

In our Minnesota workers' compensation practice, we frequently see injured workers whose claims are denied struggling to return to work. In many instances, these folks benefit from rehabilitation services provided through the Department of Labor and Industry's Vocational Rehabilitation Unit (VRU).

VRU services are designed to help injured workers return to suitable employment as quickly as possible. This could mean a return to work with the pre-injury employer, in either the same job or another job, or to a new employer in the same or a different type of work.

Vocational rehabilitation services provided by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry's Vocational Rehabilitation Unit (VRU), include:

  • Rehabilitation consultation
  • Medical management
  • Return-to-work services
  • Job analysis
  • Vocational counseling and evaluation
  • Transferable skills analysis
  • Job-seeking skills training
  • Job development and job placement
  • On-the-job training
  • Retraining evaluation

These services are provided or coordinated by a VRU qualified rehabilitation consultant (QRC).

An injured worker does not have to pay for these services. Rehabilitation services are paid for by the workers’ compensation insurance company.

In order to eligible for rehabilitation assistance through the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, you must request a VRU QRC Consultation, and you or your attorney must initiate a claim by filing a Claim Petition or Objection to Discontinuance. Click here to download a copy of the request form.

Rehabilitation services are a valuable benefit for injured workers. To learn more about your right to rehabilitation services, contact us at Meuser & Associates for a free, no-obligation workers’ compensation consultation. Call us today at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.

Visit us at MeuserLaw.com.

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