Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What is PERA?

PERA stands for the Public Employees Retirement Association, an organization that operates only in the State of Minnesota. Generally speaking, PERA provides and manages the benefits for certain public employees—for example, retired government workers, police officers and firefighters—who worked for local governments throughout the State. Currently, PERA serves over 150,000 public employees and pays benefits to more than 40,000 retirees, survivors, and disabled members. This article explains PERA’s role in providing disability benefits and workers’ compensation.

The first step towards eligibility is to be a PERA member. Under Minnesota law, most non-elected public employee positions—like police officers, firefighters, correctional officers and employees working for state counties, cities, townships, and public school districts—are automatically enrolled. However, some public employees have the option to participate as a member of PERA. Typically, optional membership is offered for certain elected officials, volunteer ambulance personnel, city managers, and physicians employed by local governments.

When applying for disability benefits, PERA members may receive one of two types of disability: “duty” disability or regular disability benefits. Duty Disability benefits are available for police officers, firefighters, and correctional officers for injuries that occurred during or arose out of the performance of duties specific to protecting the property or the safety of others. Under statute, these duties have to be inherently dangerous. Which duties are “inherently dangerous” are not always clear. In addition, the injury must prevent the performance of future duties for at least a year. If you are eligible for Duty Disability, PERA calculates your benefit by averaging 60% of your monthly salary benefit during the highest five consecutive years of earnings, also referred to as your high-five salary. That rate is increased by 3% for each year of service beyond 20 years.

Alternatively, regular disability benefits are available for PERA members who have a physical or psychological condition expected to impact the performance of normal duties for at least a year. The disability can be a non-work related injury or an injury that occurred during the performance of work duties. Unlike Duty Disability, the injury does not need to have occurred while protecting the property or safety of others or in an inherently dangerous situation. If you are eligible for regular disability, PERA calculates your benefits based on 45% of your average monthly salary benefit during the highest five consecutive years of earnings.

For work-related injuries, PERA members can also apply for workers’ compensation even when receiving disability benefits at the same time. Workers’ compensation may be available for any injury occurring at work or because of work activities, including those that develop gradually. If your employer and their insurer accept the claim, work comp can cover reasonable and necessary medical treatments, wage loss benefits including disability benefits, and rehabilitation services.

PERA is a complex scheme with complicated eligibility requirements. The process for obtaining benefits and coordinating those benefits with workers’ compensation is difficult and the financial reward is substantial. With a PERA application, all your disability benefits are on the line. Even if a benefit is granted, receiving regular disability instead of Duty Disability could result in the loss of 15% of your monthly salary.

If you believe you are entitled to disability benefits through PERA, we strongly recommend you contact Meuser Law Office, P.A. The most important aspect of your claim is the initial application to PERA. Ensuring that your application is timely and accurate is the best way to receive your benefits quickly. If, however, you have already applied and your application has been denied or you believe you are receiving less than you are entitled, Meuser Law Office, P.A. can still help. Meuser Law’s team of experienced Minnesota PERA and workers' compensation attorneys provide assistance through every stage of disability employment applications – from the original application to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The knowledgeable attorneys at Meuser Law Office, P.A. can help make the often complex process easier to navigate and help you receive the benefits you deserve. Contact us today for a free no-obligation consultation by calling 1-877-746-5680.

Ron Meuserby Ron Meuser
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Monday, March 6, 2017

Jen Yackley Speaks at the 2017 Minnesota Association for Justice Seminar

Jen Yackley, with Meuser Law Office, P.A., was honored to speak at the Minnesota Association for Justice’s 2017 Workers’ Compensation seminar.

On Friday, March 3, the Minnesota Association for Justice held its annual Spring Continuing Legal Education seminar on Workers’ Compensation. Other speakers included the Honorable Grant Hartman, Administrative Law Judge at the Office of Administrative Hearings, the Honorable Tammy Pust, Chief Administrative Law Judge at the Office of Administrative Hearings, Dr. Daniel Sipple of Midwest Spine & Brain Institute, Kenneth Kimber of the Department of Labor and Industry, and other workers’ compensation practitioners. Lecture topics included:

Updates from the Office of Administrative Hearings
Department of Labor & Industry Dispute Certification and ADR
Understanding Pain – a Guide for Petitioners
Workers’ Compensation Case Law Update

Jen presented an overview of PERA and MSRS pension benefits, how those benefits are coordinated with Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits, and important deadlines workers’ compensation practitioners need to be aware of.

The Minnesota Association for Justice (MAJ) was established in 1954 by a small group of lawyers dedicated to protecting the rights of the injured and accused. The MAJ was created to better represent the overall interests of their clients and their profession as well as to share information, trial strategies and to collectively influence legislation. The Minnesota Association for Justice is a dynamic, pro-active membership-driven organization dedicated to helping members build their practice, better represent their clients and strengthen the profession. MAJ’s lobbyists and public relations staff monitor legislation, develop strategies and effectively represent its position to legislators and policy-makers.

Meuser Law Office, P.A. is one of the few workers’ compensation law firms in the state of Minnesota that also handles PERA and MSRS disability claims. Sitting down with us to learn more about your potential claim is a lot like financial planning. We can explain what rights you have and make recommendations to you in terms of how to best protect your rights to those benefits. The knowledgeable attorneys at Meuser Law Office, P.A. can help make the often complex process easier to navigate. Contact us today for a free no-obligation consultation by calling 1-877-746-5680.

Jennifer Yackleyby Jen Yackley
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Thursday, March 2, 2017

I Received a PPD Payment, Is My Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Case Closed?

Generally, no.

As a workers’ compensation attorney, I receive calls from injured workers in Minnesota at least a few times a month who have received a check in the mail from the workers’ compensation insurance company, and a Notice of Benefit Payment form which indicates that the payment is for Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) benefits. PPD is a Minnesota workers’ compensation benefit that is payable for the permanent functional loss of use of a body part due to a work-related injury.

Injured workers in Minnesota often mistakenly assume that this money is a “settlement” of their case, or that accepting this benefit somehow means that their case is now “closed.” That is not the case. Permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits are just one kind of benefit available under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act. Receiving a permanent partial disability (PPD) payment on a Minnesota workers’ compensation case does not mean that your case is settled or closed. Cashing your PPD payment does not mean that you’ve accepted a settlement, or agreed to close your case.

Usually, a permanent partial disability (PPD) payment is based on a rating that your doctor assigned to your permanent injury. The percentage rating you are assigned is then multiplied by a dollar figure set by the Minnesota legislature to determine the amount of your permanent partial disability benefit. For example, if you’ve sustained a herniated disc in your lumbar spine, and you’ve been assigned a 10% permanent partial disability rating, the benefit owed to you would be $8,000.00. In some cases, insurance companies pay a minimum amount of PPD benefits if there’s any question as to whether the injured worker might qualify for a higher rating.

Many workers who receive PPD benefits are entitled to additional benefits, including, but not limited to:

  • Additional PPD benefits
  • Wage loss benefits, including temporary total disability (TTD), temporary partial disability (TPD), and/or permanent total disability (PTD) benefits
  • Medical expense benefits or out of pocket expense reimbursement
  • Rehabilitation and/or retraining benefits

It may be valuable to have a workers’ compensation lawyer review your case for errors. It is common for a work comp insurance company to dispute PPD benefits. If, for example, your doctor assigned a PPD rating of 15% but the insurance company takes the position that your PPD rating should only be 8%, they may begin paying the undisputed portion of your benefit - the 8% - and you may not realize that the checks are less than they should be.

I recently settled a work comp case involving a gentleman who had sustained low back injuries requiring surgery while employed at two different jobs several years ago. He did not return to work after his last injury. As a result of his work-related back condition, and several serious non-work related medical conditions, he was incapable of working in any capacity.

When I first met with this gentleman, he told me that he had settled his two Minnesota workers’ compensation cases. After I received his file from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, I realized that he had in fact received some minimal permanent partial disability (PPD) payments from the workers’ compensation insurance company. However, he had not in fact, settled his cases. This gentleman assumed that he had settled his cases because he had received a permanent partial disability PPD) payment. We worked up his case, and ultimately procured a settlement for him for $150,000.00 in addition to the establishment of a professionally administered fund to cover his ongoing medical expenses.

If you’ve received payment for permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits on your Minnesota workers’ compensation case, a workers’ compensation attorney can evaluate whether the payment is appropriate and whether or not you have additional workers’ compensation claims. Meuser Law Office, P.A. is one of the few workers’ compensation law firms in the state of Minnesota that also handles PERA and MSRS disability claims. We’ve successfully represented hundreds of State Patrol, police officers and firefighters throughout the state for both workers’ compensation and PERA/MSRS disability claims. Sitting down with us for a consultation to learn more about your potential claims is a lot like financial planning. We can explain what rights you have and make recommendations to you in terms of how to best protect your rights to those benefits. The knowledgeable attorneys at Meuser Law Office, P.A. can help make the process easier to navigate. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation by calling 1-877-746-5680.

Jennifer Yackleyby Jen Yackley
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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

My Employer Offered Me Light Duty Work, Do I have to Accept This Job?

When you sustain an injury during the course and scope of your employment and file a claim for workers’ compensation, both you and your employer have some choices. We can assure you that your employer will make decisions in their best interest so it’s important for you to understand the process and know your rights, particularly when it comes to accepting light duty work.

The first step is to seek medical treatment after which your medical professional (doctor, physicians assistant, psychologist, chiropractor, etc.) will generally issue you restrictions. First and foremost, we at Meuser Law Office P.A. advise our clients to get these restrictions from your treating physician in writing. Documentation is key to successfully navigating the workers’ compensation system. The restrictions can be more general or it can describe exactly what tasks you can and cannot perform in your current physical capacity. Often times these restrictions prevent injured workers from performing the vast majority of their prior job functions.

If your claim is “admitted,” meaning your employer has accepted primary liability for your work injury and the employer acknowledges that you sustained a work injury during the course and scope of your employment, then employers have a choice. If they have a “light duty” position available they will offer it to you or they will pay you ongoing wage loss benefits. Positions may include general office work or duties which are not quite as strenuous as your previous job. If you are completely precluded from returning to work as a result of your work injury then the wage loss benefit to which are you owed is called Temporary Total Disability benefits (TTD). TTD benefits are paid out at a rate of 2/3 of your average weekly wage, generally an average of the 26 weeks worked before the date you were injured.

Clients often ask if they can choose to receive TTD benefits rather than returning to work in a different position. This option is attractive because it gives injured workers time to recuperate from their injury and sometimes, even sitting at a desk can be painful. If your employer offers you light duty, generally you must accept this accommodated position. Not accepting an “offer of gainful employment” as defined under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act can have dire effects on your future entitlement to wage loss benefits.

Failing to accept a suitable job offer as defined in the Minnesota Work Comp Act prevents you from receiving future Temporary Total Disability benefits. But, employers may offer you light duty work that is not suitable as defined under the statute. You should have an experienced work comp attorney review your case and assess whether or not this accommodated position is truly suitable. To assist with this process, we request that our clients be assigned a Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant (QRC) as soon as possible. QRCs act as an intermediary to help assess if a position is truly suitable for injured workers. They can perform on-site job analysis and are valued participates in the return-to-work process.

An offer of “gainful employment” may be unsuitable if:

  • it requires an employee to relocate
  • it is outside your physical restrictions
  • requires a “substantial alteration” in your lifestyle
  • requires you to move from day-time shifts to night-shifts

It’s also very important to note that what’s generally good practice in a work comp claim may ruin your chances of receiving PERA Duty Disability benefits. If you are firefighter, police officer, corrections officer, or paramedic applying for PERA Duty Disability benefits, accepting a light duty position can have unintended consequences on the approval of your PERA Duty Disability application. If you have both a work comp and PERA Duty Disability claim you should consult with attorneys who extensively practice in both areas of the law. Ask your attorney how many PERA cases they have handled, if they've taken them to formal hearings, and how will one area affect your benefits in another area.

Employers often use light duty positions to encourage employees to quit by offering highly undesirable positions. Consult with an attorney to asses your options sooner rather than later. Don’t let them use this as a tool against you. We can help you know your rights, speak up, and ask questions.

Meuser Law Office, P.A. is one of the few workers’ compensation law firms in the state of Minnesota that also handles PERA and MSRS disability claims. We’ve successfully represented hundreds of State Patrol, police officers and firefighters throughout the state for both workers’ compensation and PERA/MSRS disability claims. Sitting down with us for a consultation to learn more about your potential claims is a lot like financial planning. We can explain what rights you have and make recommendations to you in terms of how to best protect your rights to those benefits. The knowledgeable attorneys at Meuser Law Office, P.A. can help make the process easier to navigate. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation by calling 1-877-746-5680.

Mary Beth Boyceby Mary Beth
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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Don’t Wait to Seek Medical Treatment if You’ve Been Injured

If you haven’t already done so, you need to immediately seek medical care treatment if you have any type of work injury that requires medical care. Oftentimes, an employee may try to hold off on seeking the care. The problem with that is if you do not seek medical care treatment, then your rights do not become vested, and oftentimes employees will wait for a certain time to go by. Oftentimes they’ll think “Well, it’s not that bad, I don’t want to be seen as one of those people who file a workers’ compensation claim” or “I think it will go away after a couple weeks”.



Unfortunately, the longer you go without seeking medical treatment the better the likelihood the insurance company is going to deny your claim. So, in our opinion you need to immediately seek medical care treatment. If you haven’t sought the medical treatment after having filed the First Report of Injury, then go to the doctor. Go to your general practitioner or go to the urgent care center, but you need to have it documented that in fact you have sustained an injury.

Don’t wait to get an attorney involved if you have a Minnesota workers’ compensation claim. The process can be complex and you want to be sure you receive the full benefits you are entitled. Contact Meuser Law Office, P.A. for a free no-obligation consultation and claim evaluation. At Meuser Law Office, P.A. we keep our clients informed of the process as well as what to expect each step of the way. Call us today at 1-877-746-5680.

Ron Meuserby Ron Meuser
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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Firefighters with Cancer: The Statutory Presumption

Minnesota has a long history of protecting workers. In fact, Minnesota and New York were the first states to adopt “occupational disease presumptions” into the law. Prior to the adoption of these presumptions of causation, an injured party had the burden of proving that the injury or disease arose out of the course and scope of his or her employment.

At first glance, it makes sense to require the injured party to “connect the dots” between the injury or condition and the activities he or she performed as a part of the job; however, as a practical matter, this requirement precluded injured workers from obtaining a remedy under the Workers’ Compensation Act.  For example, if a worker contracted lung cancer from his contact with dangerous work-place fumes, proving that the fumes he was exposed to at work caused the cancer would be difficult, if not impossible. Causation is difficult in these cases because the cancer could have been caused by many different things, such as a genetic predisposition or exposure to cigarette smoke, and doctors are unable (or unwilling) to state to a reasonable degree of medical certainty what the “true” cause of the condition is.

The Minnesota legislature stepped in to address this injustice by adopting a presumption of causation with regard to occupational diseases. A classic example of an occupational disease from the early 20th century is Radium Jaw—a disease that involves the constant bleeding of the gums, which eventually leads to a tumorous jaw bone and severe facial distortion. This condition results from exposure to the radium used in the manufacture of watch dials. With a presumption of causation, an injured watch worker’s Radium Jaw would be presumed to be caused by his or her work. In order to overcome this presumption, counsel for the defense must provide substantive evidence showing the condition was caused by something other than the employee’s work. In other words, the watch dial manufacturer would have to prove that the employee: 1) came into sufficient contact with radium outside of work, and 2) prove that the non-work related radium was the actual cause of the disease.

In 1988, Minnesota extended the statutory presumption to provide legal protection for firefighters who developed certain types of cancer. Minnesota Statutes section 176.011 provides that an active duty firefighter who is unable to perform his or her duties because of a disabling cancer is presumed to have an occupational disease. To qualify for this presumption of causation, the cancer must be of a type caused by heat, radiation, or reasonably linked carcinogens. When a firefighter contracts one of these types of cancers, it is presumed to be caused by his work as a firefighter.

For more information on the statutory presumption of causation related to firefighters, click here.

If you are a firefighter who has been diagnosed with cancer and have questions about whether you have a workers’ compensation claim, or are eligible for PERA Duty Disability claim, contact the attorneys at Meuser Law Office, P.A.  Our attorneys have experience representing clients with this type of workers’ compensation claim. Contact us today at 877-746-5680 for a free no-obligation consultation.

Ashley Biermannby Ashley Biermann
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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

PERA and the Two-Year Rule

If you have a potentially career ending injury, you should immediately consult with a Minnesota attorney who practices in PERA and MSRS disability law. Although it may be too soon to determine if you can return to work, you should still consult with an attorney right away to learn about your options. If you wait two years after your work injury it may be too late to apply for PERA or MSRS Duty Disability benefits.

To receive Duty Disability benefits, Minnesota police officers, deputy sheriffs, firefighters, and corrections officers must show that he or she has a condition that is expected to prevent him or her from performing “the normal duties” of his or her position for a period of twelve months as “a direct result of an injury incurred during the performance of inherently dangerous duties that are specific to” the position of police officer. See Minn. Stat. § 353.01, subd, 41. Members of the police and fire plan must show:

The injury will persist for over one year
The injury was sustained while performing inherently dangerous duties specific to the position
The disablement is a direct result of the injury

When the date of the disabling injury is more than two years prior to filing an application for Duty Disability benefits, police officers, deputy sheriffs, corrections officers, and firefighters must also demonstrate that he or she is unable to perform the most recent duties that were expected to be performed by him or her in the 90 days preceding his or her application, under Minnesota Statute § 353.031, Subdivision 4(b). The issue that frequently arises in cases with disabling injuries over two years old is that the State, cities, and counties often offer light duty for the injured worker. PERA has a restrictive view on the term “duties” in Minnesota Statute §353.01, subdivision 4(b). If a police officer or firefighter is able to work desk duty then PERA will frequently deny his or her application.

Meuser Law Office, P.A. has successfully argued in contested case hearings that PERA unfairly limits the definition of “duties” expected to perform, however this issue has not yet been heard in front of the Minnesota Court of Appeals and it is costly for claimants to litigate their case through numerous appeals. We argue that the term “duties” in Minnesota Statute § 353.01, subdivision 4(b) refers to the full range of duties of the member, not the particular temporary assignment. For example, an officer working missing persons desk duty is still a licensed peace officer in the state of Minnesota, able to effect arrests, use a weapon, and maintain order. But given an officer’s physical restrictions he or she is unable to effect arrests, subdue suspects, or ensure his or her own safety.

Administrative Law Judges’ past decisions, the rules of statutory interpretation, and public policy support this interpretation of the term “duties.” Interpreting “duties” to mean the duties of the position held by the member in the ninety-days preceding the application promotes public policy by preserving judicial economy; eliminating improper financial incentives to public employers; and upholding the legislative intent of the statute, including the purpose behind the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act.

This interpretation avoids wasting PERA, the employer, and the member’s time and resources, which would be spent comparing conflicting post hoc job descriptions and definitions of the applicant’s “duties.” This interpretation also encourages a public employer to only offer light duty for ninety-days, in light of the financial advantage. Otherwise qualified public employees injured in the line of duty would then not be eligible for Duty Disability benefits because public employers will “work the statute” by employing injured employees in a light duty capacity for only ninety-days and therefore avoid any financial obligation owed under the statute.

PERA’s interpretation discourages members from attempting to return to work, even in a light duty capacity, and encourages members to refuse light duty assignments offered by employers. Incentivizing employees to refuse light duty work runs contrary to the purpose of the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act. Almost all members who sustain a qualifying injury under the PERA Police and Fire plan qualify for Minnesota Workers’ Compensation benefits and a central tenet of the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act is to return injured workers back to work.

Subsequently, employees will be forced to choose between PERA and worker’s compensation benefits. The Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act specifically permits employers to discontinue wage loss benefits if an employee refuses an offer of employment. See, e.g, Minn. Stat. § 176.101, subd. 1(i); Minn. Stat. § 176.102, subd. 4. Therefore, the City’s interpretation places qualified employees in the position of deciding which benefit to jeopardize: PERA disability benefits or workers’ compensation benefits.

Meuser Law Office, P.A. is one of the few workers’ compensation law firms in the state of Minnesota that also handles PERA and MSRS disability claims. We’ve successfully represented hundreds of State Patrol, police officers and firefighters throughout the state for both workers’ compensation and PERA/MSRS disability claims. Sitting down with us for a consultation to learn more about your potential claims is a lot like financial planning. We can explain what rights you have and make recommendations to you in terms of how to best protect your rights to those benefits. The knowledgeable attorneys at Meuser Law Office, P.A. can help make the process easier to navigate. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation by calling 1-877-746-5680.

Mary Beth Boyceby Mary Beth
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