Tuesday, April 24, 2012

PERA and Choosing the Right MN Workers' Compensation Lawyer

If you are a Minnesota police officer or firefighter and you've sustained a serious on-the-job injury, you may be eligible for PERA disability benefits and/or health care continuation benefits, in addition to your workers' compensation benefits. PERA benefits and health care continuation benefits can be worth several hundreds thousand dollars.  A Minnesota workers' compensation lawyer who also handles PERA disability claims can help you protect your rights.  

Choosing the right Minnesota workers' compensation lawyer is an important decision, especially for injured police officers and firefighters. If your workers' compensation lawyer can't or won't help you with your PERA claims, it's a good idea to consult with a lawyer who can and will handle PERA claims.

We occasionally take calls from and meet with people who are not happy with how things are being handled by their Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyer. Ron and I are happy to evaluate your situation, and give you our recommendations. We will give you an honest assessment as to whether or not your attorney is handling things appropriately. If it looks like things are headed in the right direction, we’ll tell you so. If it looks like things are not moving along as they should be, we’ll tell you so. Sometimes it makes sense to switch attorneys, and sometimes it doesn’t make sense. There is nothing wrong with getting a “second opinion” if you feel your case is not being handled appropriately. You always have the right to change workers’ compensation lawyers, at no additional cost to you. 

One thing we’ve seen a lot recently, however, is police officers and firefighters with workers’ compensation claims, who are represented by otherwise competent workers’ compensation lawyers, who are being given poor advice regarding their claims for PERA disability benefits. Some people are being told not to file for PERA or to wait an excessive length of time, they’re told that their lawyer doesn’t practice in that area, so they can’t give them any guidance, or their workers’ compensation claims are being handled in a way that jeopardizes their PERA claims.

Over the last several years, our firm has handled workers’ compensation claims on behalf of dozens and dozens of Minnesota police officers and firefighters. Over time, we realized that if you are handling these types of cases, you absolutely have to know what you’re doing when it comes to PERA. As a workers’ compensation lawyer, telling your police and fire clients that you don’t handle PERA claims is really doing those clients an expensive disservice by not expeditiously helping them get these benefits. Even worse, if you don’t have a good grasp of some of the complexities surrounding PERA disability benefits, you can mess up their claims, which can literally cost your police and fire clients hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of benefits.  

If you are a Minnesota police officer or firefighter and you’ve sustained an on-the-job injury that jeopardizes your career, you should consult with a lawyer that practices BOTH workers’ compensation law AND PERA law. 

With rare exception, if you are a Minnesota police officer or firefighters who has sustained a career-ending in-the-line-of-duty injury, the value of your PERA disability benefits and healthcare continuation benefits substantially exceeds the value of your workers’ compensation claim. In my opinion, usually, your lawyer’s first priority should be evaluating your PERA disability claims.

My firm has recently taken over representation on a number of police officer and firefighter cases where their prior attorney dropped the ball on the PERA claims. On two cases, our client was told by their prior attorney that they don’t handle PERA claims, and couldn’t answer their questions. On one of those cases, the client’s PERA claim should have been filed at least six months before our involvement. On the other case, the client tried to file for PERA on her own, and made mistakes that took a hearing to sort out, and almost cost her hundreds of thousands of dollars. On yet another case, our client was told by her prior lawyer NOT to file for PERA. Her claim should have been filed months ago. On another case, the client’s prior workers’ compensation lawyer was pursuing a strategy that would have netted him a few thousand extra dollars on his workers’ compensation case, but would have cost him in excess of a hundred thousand dollars on his PERA duty disability and healthcare continuation claims.

I’m not fond of criticizing how other Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyers handle claims, and we’re not in the business of “stealing” cases from other attorneys. That being said, I’m frustrated by how many police officers and firefighters with significant work-related injuries we’re hearing from lately where their PERA claims are not being properly handled.

We’re proud of the work we do for our Minnesota police officer and firefighter clients. After successfully handling dozens of PERA police and fire disability claims, we know what we’re doing and we understand the nuances of these types of claims. 

As far as I’m aware, Meuser & Associate is one of the few law firms in state (if not the only law firm in the state) that also regularly handles PERA claims. If you’re an injured police officer or firefighter, from the time of your first consultation with a workers’ compensation lawyer, you should feel confident that your lawyer knows what they’re doing as it pertains to your claim for PERA benefits. This is a complex area of law with lots of nuances. Ask your lawyer how many PERA cases they’ve handled. Is he or she able to answer your specific questions? Can he or she give you an analysis as to whether or not you meet the PERA duty disability criteria?

Even if you are currently represented by another workers’ compensation lawyer, if you are a disabled Minnesota police officer or firefighter, we are always happy to provide you with a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your potential PERA claims. 

For more information about PERA benefits, check out these other articles I've written:

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


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