Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Cumulative Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Police Officers

Ten years ago, many people had never heard of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Today most people associate PTSD with soldiers, who often suffer from the effects of PTSD from a single traumatic incident or exposure in the line of duty. What this means is when you ask a soldier the cause of his or her PTSD, they can usually point to a single incident or set of incidents that sparked the onset of their PTSD symptoms. This is not the case for Minnesota police officers. Many times, PTSD symptoms manifest over the course of time as a result of multiple traumatic experiences, and it is difficult to point to just one incident as the inciting event.

What Causes PTSD?

Many events can cause PTSD in police officers, such as shootings or “shots fired” calls, motor vehicle collisions involving fatalities or severe injuries, hostage situations, dangerous drug busts, domestic dispute calls, child abuse investigations, or any other situation that involves exposure to serious injury or death. There is no rhyme or reason for why one person develops PTSD and another does not. There is also no reason why one particular event “causes” PTSD while another, perhaps more traumatic event, does not. With police officers, PTSD many times occurs as a result of a build-up of events that arise throughout an officer’s career.

The Workers Compensation Act recognizes post-traumatic stress disorder as a compensable injury as of October 1, 2013 and defines PTSD by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V (DSM-V). The DSM-V specifically describes the types of incidents that are required for a PTSD diagnosis. These incidents include exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence in on or more of the following ways:

1. Directly experiencing the traumatic event(s).
2. Witnessing, in person, the event(s) as it occurred to others.
3. Learning that the traumatic event(s) occurred to a close family members or close friend.
4. Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event(s).

The DSM-V provides an example for #4 above, citing to first responders who collect human remains or police officers exposed to details of child abuse.

Other stressful situations may also contribute to an officer’s overall deterioration in mental health, including long hours, politics within the police department, not knowing what the next call will be or when it will come in, and handling the attitudes of others. In addition, officers are often times criticized and investigated for the decisions they have to make within a split second. While this likely contributes to an officer’s mental condition, factors such as these “work stress factors” are not events that lead to PTSD.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

There are many symptoms of PTSD. A common symptom witnessed in most of our Meuser Law Office, P.A. clients is their report of having irritable behavior or angry outbursts with little to no provocation. This makes sense since PTSD inhibits one’s ability to appropriately handle stress. On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the most stress you’ve ever had in your life and zero being no stress, a person with PTSD may rate going to the mall or grocery store at a 7 when a person without PTSD may rate it as a 1 or a 2.

Here are other signs and symptoms to watch for:

Irritability or frequent anger
Withdrawal from family and friends
Emotional outbursts
Suspicion or paranoia
Risk taking behaviors such as excessive drinking, drug use or risky sexual behaviors
Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep
Anxiety or panic feelings
Panic attacks
Intrusive thoughts
Avoiding people or places
Easily distracted
Lack of concentration
Recurring thoughts
Judgment errors
Sweating, trembling or shaking
Negative beliefs about yourself
Inability to feel positive emotions
Exaggerated startle response

It is important to remember that 10 - 30 percent of first responders will develop PTSD in the course of their career. These injuries can be just as serious and dangerous as physical injuries and should be taken seriously. Early intervention in the form of therapy and/or prescription medication is likely the single best thing you can do for a PTSD diagnosis. There is no one answer for everyone. What may work for one person in terms of treatment may not work for you. However, the faster you seek assistance for your post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, the greater the chance you have of making a rapid and full recovery.

Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, there are benefits available for Minnesota police officers and first responders who develop PTSD on the job. These benefits include wage loss, rehabilitation, and medical care and treatment. If you or someone you know suffers from PTSD due to a work-related accident or traumatic incident, you should consult with an attorney experienced in this area of the law. At Meuser Law Office, P.A., we have represented many clients with PTSD, including police officers, firefighters, first responders and correctional officers. We understand this nuanced area of the law and work with our client to ensure you receive the full benefits you are entitled. Contact Meuser Law Office, P.A. for a no-obligation consultation today. Don’t let the insurance company unfairly deny you benefits as a result of their misinterpretation of the law surrounding PTSD in Minnesota. Call us today at 1-877-746-5680.

Ashley Biermannby Ashley Biermann
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Friday, April 7, 2017

Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Benefits are Not Taxable

It’s that time of year again! Tax time! This year’s tax filing deadline is April 18, 2017. If you’ve procrastinated, or you’re doing your own taxes, you may be wondering if you need to report your Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits. In other words, are your Minnesota work comp wage loss benefits taxable? The answer is NO!

You are not required to pay income taxes on your work comp benefits, regardless of whether you received them on a weekly basis or as a lump sum settlement. Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits are considered to be compensation for a personal injury under the Federal Tax Code, and therefore are non-taxable.

Other types of benefits that are payable as a result of a work-related injury may also be non-taxable, including PERA Police and Fire Plan or Corrections Plan Duty Disability Benefits, and MSRS State Patrol Plan and Corrections Plan Duty Disability Benefits.

To ensure you are maximizing your eligibility for Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits, contact Meuser Law Office, P.A. for a free no-obligation consultation. Call us today at 1-877-746-5680.

Jennifer Yackleyby Jen Yackley
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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Am I Eligible for Rehabilitation Benefits if I Have Quit My Job?

Frequently, employers and insurers who are involved in Minnesota workers’ compensation cases do not understand that even if an employee separates from his or her date of injury employer, he or she is still entitled to rehabilitation services of a Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant (QRC). These rehabilitation services include job placement services. A QRC will help an injured worker return to work at a different job within his or her restrictions.

If an employer and insurer terminates rehabilitation services through a rehabilitation request and is refusing to provide job placement services, the injured worker should file a rehabilitation request. The issue must be certified as a dispute under Minnesota Statute § 176.081, subdivision 1 (c). After a mediator at the Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) will determine whether a genuine dispute exists between the parties and the matter will be scheduled for a rehabilitation conference at DOLI.

As long as an employee remains a qualified employee under Minnesota Administrative Rules part 5220.0100 subpart 22, an employee is entitled to rehabilitation services, including job placement services. In order to be a qualified employee, the employee must be:

(a) permanently precluded or likely to be permanently precluded from his or her usual occupation or job he or she held at the time of the injury;
(b) cannot reasonably be expected to return to suitable gainful employment with the date of injury employer; and
(c) can reasonably be expected to return to suitable gainful employment with rehabilitation services.

By definition if PERA has awarded a Minnesota police officer, firefighter, first responder, or deputy sheriff Duty Disability benefits, he or she is a qualified employee. In order to receive PERA Duty Disability benefits, two doctors must opine that the worker’s disability prevents him or her from working as a police officer or firefighter for at least one year.

Once PERA awards an employee Duty Disability benefits he or she must separate from the county or city. If the police officer or firefighter is working light duty, he or she must separate within 45 days. The injured worker may return to work in a different capacity but he or she cannot work in a position covered by the PERA Police and Fire Plan.

Members who qualify for PERA Duty Disability benefits are actually incentivized to find employment in a non-police and fire plan position. If he or she is not working, the injured worker’s wages are capped at 100% of his or her “high five” between PERA benefits and workers’ compensation wage loss benefits. But if he or she is able to work elsewhere, the member’s wages are capped at 125% among PERA, work comp, and the new job. After the member’s wage reaches 125% then the PERA benefits are reduced a dollar for every three dollars.

Accepting PERA Duty Disability benefits do not signify that the employee is withdrawing from the labor market. The injured worker merely cannot work in the same capacity in which he or she worked before the injury and disabling condition. Injured workers should complete and track his or her job search in order to demonstrate a desire to return to work.

In the Minnesota workers’ compensation case, Erickson v. City of St. Paul, the employee resigned from his employer, who was accommodating his restrictions, in order to accept PERA benefits. (slip. op. (W.C.C.A. April 16, 2007)). The employer and insurer argued because he voluntarily resigned he was not qualified for rehabilitation services, specifically retraining benefits. The court noted that the employee qualified for PERA benefits because of his disability, not because he restricted and that whether an employee is “employed, voluntarily terminates his employment, retires, or relocates does not terminate his or her entitlement to rehabilitation services.”

If an employee does not resign from the position covered by the PERA police and fire plan, he or she will lose entitlement to non-taxable income, 60% of his or her “high five,” health insurance benefits, and survivor benefits. Refusing a job offer does not cut off rehabilitation services nor does being fired for misconduct. Hugill v. Benton County, 64 WCD 220 (2004); Conklin v. Becker County Dev. Achievement Ctr., Slip op., No. WC 10-210 (WCCA Apr. 28, 2011). The court noted in Boutto v. U.S. Steel Corp. that an employee’s decision to accept the employer’s retirement incentive package should not place him in a worse position than someone discharged for misconduct. (July 18, 2007 WC06-288.)

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. If your employer or insurer has denied rehabilitation services, contact an attorney at Meuser Law Office, P.A. for a free, no-obligation consultation. Our knowledgeable attorneys handle Minnesota workers’ compensation cases on a daily basis and are very familiar with the most current laws to determine what you are eligible for. We will ensure you receive the full benefits you are entitled. Call us today at 1-877-746-5680.

Mary Beth Boyceby Mary Beth
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Friday, March 31, 2017

Meet Jen Yackley

Hi, my name is Jen Yackley and I’m an attorney at Meuser Law Office, P.A.  Our law office specializes in workers’ compensation, PERA disability benefits, MSRS disability benefits and personal injury on behalf of workers injured in the course and scope of their employment in Minnesota. I grew up in Canby, Minnesota, a small town in Western Minnesota. I earned my Bachelor’s degree from Beuna Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, and went on to earn my Juris Doctor degree from Hamline University in 2008. I began working at Meuser Law Office as a law clerk while I was in law school in 2007 and I’ve been there ever since. I began practicing as an attorney in 2008.

While I was in law school, my husband sustained an injury in the course and scope of his employment doing construction work. The work comp insurer denied that he was an employee within the meaning of the work comp laws and they denied his claim. I saw first hand what it was like to deal with a work injury when work comp is refusing to pay for medical expenses and refusing to pay for your wage loss. He went to trial and he won, so I saw the whole process start to finish and we obviously had a good result. I have seen what it’s like to not only go through a case where the work comp insurer is denying your claim, but also what it’s like when the insurance company is actually paying your claim.

Through that process, I learned that the workers’ compensation system is its own unique court system and I found the work comp laws to be very fascinating and decided I wanted to practice in this area.

Almost from day 1 working with Meuser Law Office, P.A., I was working on cases involving police officers and firefighters. While I was a law clerk, some of my first work involved writing court of appeals briefs on behalf of firefighters who were fighting for their right to health care continuation benefits. Since that time our practice has only grown in terms of the number and scope of firefighters and police officers we work with throughout this state. It’s my favorite practice area. I love working on firefighter and police officer cases, it’s extremely rewarding and it’s extremely interesting work. Not only that, but I do have a soft spot in my heart for firefighters because my dad was a volunteer firefighter in my small hometown for 25 years.

I’m honored to have the opportunity to represent police officers and firefighters and I’m very proud of the work we do at Meuser Law Office, P.A.

Jennifer Yackleyby Jen Yackley
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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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