What Does It Mean to be Permanently Totally Disabled?

Several workers dig a pit at a construction site while supervisors watch from above.

Permanent total disability or “PTD” is a wage loss benefit paid to an injured worker whose injuries are so extensive that he or she is unable to find meaningful gainful employment. A judge at a hearing will determine whether or not an injured worker is permanently totally disabled. Typically, even if an injured worker has admitted extensive injuries, the insurance company will not acknowledge that the injured worker is PTD.

First, in order to qualify for PTD in Minnesota, for injuries occurring on or after October 1, 1995, the injured worker must establish a minimum Permanent Partial Disability or PPD rating. Generally the minimum PPD threshold is 17%, but the court also looks at other factors such as the injured worker’s age and education level. The less formal education an injured worker has received and the older the injured worker is, the lower the PPD rating the injured worker must establish. While certain medical conditions automatically qualify an injured worker for PTD benefits, such as complete loss of sight, loss of both arms, and paralysis. It’s also important to note that if an injured worker’s injury occurred prior to October 1, 1995 he or she may still be entitled to PTD benefit; however, the controlling law is slightly different. In Minnesota work comp the law in effect on the date of the employee’s injury controls the employee’s entitlement to benefits.

Your attorney will generally request an IVE or an Independent Vocational Evaluation done by a Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant (QRC). The QRC will ascertain whether in their opinion the injured worker is able to ever return to gainful employment. Your attorney will also request narrative reports from your treating physicians who will determine the amount of PPD.

In determining whether an employee meets the PPD threshold the court may take into account both work and non-work related injuries. Not all work related injuries have to stem from the same date of injury. However, under recent Minnesota Supreme Court case law in Allan v. R.D. Offutt, Co. the permanency ratings – whether work related or not—must impact the employee’s employability.

Calculating PTD benefits is very complicated. The benefit is paid out on a weekly basis and is calculated as 2/3 of the injured worker’s average weekly wage or average of earnings 26 weeks before his or her date of injury. Permanent total disability benefits are available until age 67 or until the employee testifies he or she intended to retire. The more complicated part comes when determining the date the employee became permanently totally disabled, which isn’t always the same date of injury, and the ensuing offsets.

After employees have received $25,000 of PTD benefits, the employer/insurer is entitled to an offset for other disability benefits such as Social Security Disability Income or PERA Duty Disability benefits. It’s also important to note that the more disabled an employee is does not always correlate with a higher value work comp claim. Typically, it is less advantageous for our clients who are have applied for and are receiving PERA Duty Disability benefits to not claim permanent total disability. But, once the PERA Duty Disability benefits convert to a retirement benefit at age 55, or 5 years after the employee has applied for PERA Duty Disability benefits depending on his or her age, the employer/insurer is no longer entitled to an offset. Under recent case law in Gary Ekdahl v. Independent School District #213, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that “old age and survivor insurance benefits” in Minnesota Statute § 176.101, subd. 4, do not include pension benefits from former government employees, in effect exempting PERA disability benefits from the offset.

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 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.