At the law firm of Schaefer Halleen, we work with hard-working people like you. Depending on the company you work for, you may find yourself injured at work and out on leave for a period of time. While your employer is not required by law in Minnesota to hold your job for you, you cannot be fired or discriminated against because you are injured and had to file a workers’ compensation claim. This is called retaliatory termination and in Minnesota it is against the law.
If you are in the unfortunate situation of having filed a workers’ compensation claim, we want you to know your rights, especially if your symptoms worsen.
Have you settled your Minnesota worker’s compensation case, but your medical condition has worsened, changed, or you received a new diagnosis/condition related to your original worker’s compensation injury? If so, you may be able to receive additional worker’s compensation benefits.
Q. When can I receive worker’s compensation benefits after I already entered into a Settlement Stipulation?
A. Minnesota employee who has been injured at work may eventually settle their worker’s compensation case resulting in a Settlement Stipulation being approved by a worker’s compensation Administrative Law Judge. Yet, after some time passes, an injured worker may want to reopen the worker’s compensation case for a variety of reasons, and it is often because an individual’s medical condition has worsened in a way that the individual did not anticipate. Due to this worsened state, the individual should receive additional compensation or medical care.
In limited situations it is possible to “vacate” an Award on Stipulation or seek additional benefits stemming from your original worker’s compensation injury, but this is a protracted and complicated process and you should seek counsel to assist you. We briefly explain this process in Minnesota.
In Minnesota, a worker’s compensation case that has been settled may be reopened if it is vacated by the Minnesota Worker’s Compensation Court of Appeals (“W.C.C.A.”). However, the statute only allows the W.C.C.A. to vacate the Settlement Stipulation in four limited instances:
- If there was a mutual mistake of fact;
- If there is newly discovered evidence;
- If there was fraud; or
- If the employee’s medical condition substantially changed since the Award on the Stipulation for Settlement and the change could have not been reasonably anticipated at the time of the Award. (Minn. Stat. § 461.)
When the W.C.C.A. has vacated Settlement Stipulations, the Court most often does so due to an employee’s substantial change in medical condition. Having a Settlement Stipulation vacated through this route; however, still requires evidence presented to the W.C.C.A. that the worker experienced a medical condition as a result of a work injury, the medical condition substantially changed since the Award, which will have to be supported by medical evidence, and the substantial change in the medical condition could have not been reasonably anticipated at the time of the Award on Stipulation. This standard is complicated, requires medical evidence, and often requires detailed briefing to the W.C.C.A. Even after this process, there is, of course, no guarantee the W.C.C.A. will vacate a Settlement Stipulation. If you seek to reopen your worker’s compensation case, you should seek experienced counsel.
Q. When can I receive additional worker’s compensation benefits after I have settled my case, but have a new diagnosis or condition related to my original worker’s compensation injury?
A. The most common route for trying to receive worker’s compensation benefits after an employee has settled the case is to try to vacate the Settlement Stipulation, as discussed above. However, there is an alternative route an injured Minnesota worker can pursue if the worker’s medical condition was never reasonably contemplated at the time of the Settlement Stipulation but was caused by the original work injury.
For example, what if an employee injured his/her low back at work, received an injection to the low back as part of the diagnostic imaging of the low back, and then the employee began experiencing a whole host of new problems because of the injection? Further, the employee only learned that the injection caused those new problems as well as a new medical diagnosis/condition some 30 years after he reached settlement.
This scenario occurred in Wendroth v. Madsen & Sons, WC18-6226 (W.C.C.A. July 15, 2019), where Mr. Wendroth argued that he did not reasonably contemplate the medical condition/diagnosis, chemical meningitis, caused by the injection when he reached a settlement in 1983. Thus, Mr. Wendroth avoided proceeding to the W.C.C.A. to vacate his prior Award on Stipulation, and, instead, filed a Claim Petition with the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”) to seek new benefits due to the consequential injury caused by the injection. He prevailed at receiving new benefits as a result of the chemical meningitis caused by the diagnostic injection.
Wendroth has real implications for injured workers who have settled their claims. For example, did you have a specific work injury, for example to your back, which caused some pain, settled your case, and only later after settlement you learned that the pain was more severe and specifically diagnosed as RSD or complex regional pain syndrome? Under Wendroth, perhaps, you may have a new claim for worker’s compensation benefits if the RSD diagnosis was not contemplated at the time of settlement.
If you are seeking new benefits by vacating a prior Award on Stipulation or because your medical condition/diagnosis was not reasonably contemplated by the parties at the time of settlement, then you should reach out to experienced legal counsel.
Most importantly, if you believe you are being discriminated against because you filed a workers’ compensation claim, and that you are being retaliated against because of the claim you filed, we encourage you to contact us today and confidentially discuss your situation with an experienced employment law attorney.