When Do I Need a Lawyer if I’ve Been Injured in the Line of Duty?

A police officer, paramedic, and firefighter all pose for the camera.

Quite often Minnesota police officers with serious on-duty injuries wait to speak with a lawyer until they’re dealing with a legal mess. What I hear from these individuals is since they assumed that they had a “legitimate” injury, they didn’t think they needed a lawyer. Or they assumed their department would take care of them – until they were terminated. Or, since the workers’ compensation insurer was paying, that they didn’t need an attorney – until the workers’ compensation insurer stopped paying benefits. Or, that their friend went through the process and has been giving them some “guidance” on how to navigate the system.

Disadvantages in waiting too long to speak with a lawyer:

  • Waiting until there’s a dispute with the work comp insurer on your case means you are already behind the eight ball and losing your advantage to push back.
  • If you don’t know your rights, you may be missing out on benefits you are owed or inadvertently waive your rights to certain types of claims. Work comp adjusters do not have a legal obligation to advise you of benefits to which you may be entitled.
  • It’s easy to mess up your claim. It cannot be undone if you provide evidence to the work comp adjuster that can be manipulated and used against you. That evidence will follow you for the rest of the claim process and beyond. Work comp is already complex and will become exponentially more when you also have a PERA disability claim.
  • You may unintentionally waive your rights. There are some strict timing rules for both work comp and PERA. If deadlines are missed, you are out of luck. For example, you have a very short window to request your own QRC. You have an extremely short window to request a Hearing if work comp files a Notice of Intent to Discontinue. You have a limited time within which to file for PERA disability benefits.
  • Peace of mind. It can be stressful to navigate the work comp/PERA process on your own. A lawyer will help relieve some of the stress and uncertainty surrounding a significant injury while you focus on recovery.

Believe it or not, there are times when an officer who has suffered an on-duty injury doesn’t need a lawyer, but there are definitely times when having the expertise on your team makes a big difference.

When is it a good idea to speak with a lawyer?

  • Significant injuries. When you’re dealing with a serious injury that requires surgery, more than a few weeks off work, or that might result in permanent limitations, the sooner you speak with a lawyer – the better. In cases involving serious injuries, it’s important that your case is set up correctly from the beginning.
  • Disputed or denied claims. In theory, it’s possible to litigate a disputed work comp claim on your own, but probably not a great idea. The work comp insurer most certainly has an attorney, and you should too. Workers’ compensation is a complex area of law and easy to get lost in the procedural maze or to mess up your case. If your claim is disputed or denied, don’t ignore it! There may be statutes of limitations that will preclude you from asserting a claim if you wait too long. And, once your claim is denied, it’s rare that you’ll be able to convince an adjuster to change their mind by submitting additional information or by arguing your position to them. You’re far more likely to hurt your case by going back & forth with the adjuster after your case is denied or disputed.
  • You’re scheduled for an independent medical xxamination (IME). The workers’ compensation insurer only schedules “independent” medical evaluations for one reason – to try to find a reason to stop your benefits. These examinations are NOT independent – they are not second opinions, and the doctors that conduct them are not there to help you. If you are scheduled for an independent medical examination by the workers’ compensation insurer, you would be wise to consult with an attorney immediately. The work comp insurer is setting the stage to try to end your claim.
  • Permanent restrictions. If you have an injury or condition that is likely to result in permanent restrictions, it’s a good idea to speak with an attorney sooner rather than later. DO NOT WAIT until you’ve been assigned permanent restrictions. You’ll be five steps behind which may result in a significant gap in cash flow if you haven’t prepared for this.
  • PERA Duty Disability. If you consider submitting an application for PERA disability benefits, it’s a good idea to speak with an attorney experienced in this area. While it is possible to file on your own, it’s extremely easy to screw up, which can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. Once in a while I do meet with individuals who file for PERA on their own, and then retain our services after the fact to try to clean up. Even for those individuals who manage to obtain a PERA approval on their own, the evidence that was submitted with the claim may come back to haunt them. If the information submitted to PERA contained adverse evidence or was done incorrectly, it can have a serious impact on that individual’s other claims, including claims for continued health insurance under Minn. Stat. 299A.465 and workers’ compensation. There are also significant coordination issues between workers’ compensation and PERA, and timing issues on PERA, that can make it risky to try to handle these claims on your own.
  • Complex injuries. Injuries that involve “complex” medical situations are often best handled with the help of an attorney. This includes, but is not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder, injuries requiring a surgery, heart attacks, cancer, Gillette-type injuries (injuries that develop over time), injuries where the person has a significant pre-existing condition, injuries from multiple employers, injuries due to car accidents, and injuries over two years old. All of these types of injuries tend to be more complicated, more frequently disputed, more complex to document and establish, and have different and/or additional requirements. Again, if you try to submit a claim for one of these injuries on your own, just remember that anything you submit can potentially be used against you down the road. You’re best off submitting your claim properly from the beginning, rather than trying to shore it up in the future.
  • Injuries due to a motor vehicle collision. On-duty injuries that occur as the result of an auto crash where a third party is at fault frequently involve a personal injury action in addition to workers’ compensation. I’m always shocked how many times I speak with an officer who has no idea that he or she has a claim against an at-fault driver who caused a crash. These types of claims are best handled with the assistance of an attorney who handles personal injury actions, and who is also familiar with the interplay between third party liability claims, work comp claims and PERA disability claims. Even if work comp has covered an officer’s injuries due to an on-duty crash, there may be additional third party claims beyond those covered by work comp.

The experienced team of attorneys at Meuser, Yackley & Rowland, P.A., are always available to discuss your case. We welcome you to call us with any questions, even if you’re not ready to retain a lawyer. Contact us at 1-877-746-5680 for a free, confidential consultation.