To Settle or Not to Settle My Minnesota Workers' Compensation Case
Almost every injured employee with a Minnesota workers' compensation claim will eventually be faced with the question, "Should I settle my case, go to a hearing, or risk a workers' compensation trial?" Your decision will have long lasting consequences and should only be made after taking a number of
Liability/CausationHas the Employer/Insurer acknowledged that you sustained an injury while in the course and scope of your employment? Do they acknowledge that your current condition/symptoms are causally related to the admitted injury? Whether or not the Employer/Insurer acknowledge liability and/or causation for your injuries is probably the most important factor that plays a role in evaluating your settlement options. If there is a dispute regarding your right to Minnesota workers' compensation benefits, the Employer/Insurer may deny primary liability on the basis that your condition is not causally related to your work injury. The most common situation is when the Employer/Insurer acknowledge that you sustained an injury but allege that your current condition is caused by a pre-existing condition or a subsequent injury. In order to establish causation, or that your condition is related to your work injury, you will generally need a narrative report. A narrative report is typically a two-to-three page letter report from your doctor setting forth the manner in which your injury occurred, and offering an opinion as to whether your work injury is a substantial contributing factor to your current condition. Not all narrative reports are the same. The stronger the narrative report, the greater chance you have at succeeding at a full Hearing. The Employer/Insurer will have utilized an IME (Independent Medical Examiner) to procure an opinion contrary to your claim. Despite the fact that everyone in the Minnesota workers' compensation system, including judges, recognize that an IME is anything but independent, the Employee still has the burden of proof to establish Liability/Causation. Do not let emotions dictate your analysis. Evaluate objectively the strength of your narrative report. Ask your lawyer for an honest evaluation as to Liability/Causation. Too often, an Employee will incorrectly assume that Liability/Causation is clear; that no one could dispute how the injuries occurred. Talk to your workers' compensation lawyer! Even seemingly clear-cut cases involve disputes regarding liability and/or causation. The Employer/Insurer often commonly, and very strenuously, argue that your injury is not work-related. If you lose on the issue of liability and/or causation at trial, you may very well lose your entire case. Do not underestimate the importance of this issue.
DamagesAssuming that you are successful in establishing Liability/Causation, what benefits are you entitled to? First and foremost, you are only allowed to recover those benefits that are specifically allowed for under the Minnesota Worker's Compensation Act. Those benefits include wage loss (temporary total and temporary partial disability), permanency (permanent partial disability) and medical expense reimbursement. The Worker's Compensation Act does not cover pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of benefits and other intangible losses. Unfortunately, regardless of how much pain you have been in, how long your case has been going on, or how your injuries have affected your life, there is no compensation for these types of losses. The most difficult aspect of settling a Minnesota workers' compensation case is separating what might be "fair" versus what types of benefits you can prove you are owed. Entitlement to each type of benefit must be evaluated on the strength of your case as it relates to each benefit. For example, you may have a strong claim for temporary partial disability wage loss but a weak case for temporary total disability wage loss.
Intangible FactorsWhat is in the best interest of the Employee? Many lawyers fail to assist their client in evaluating whether to settle and, if so, what type of settlement is in their overall best interest. Sustaining an injury at work, being denied benefits, suffering financial hardship, and undergoing the litigation process can be physically and emotionally exhausting. While a lawyer may ultimately benefit by going a to trial in order to receive additional attorney fees such as Roraff attorney fees, this may not always be in the best interest of the injured worker. For many Minnesota workers' compensation claimants, the thought of remaining in the worker's compensation system for several more years can be daunting. The key is that you and your attorney objectively evaluate all aspects of your Minnesota workers' compensation claim taking into consideration your injuries, what you have gone through, and what is in your best interest in moving forward. A Minnesota workers' compensation lawyer can help you objectively analyze your case, explore settlement options, and achieve a result that is in your best interest.