By Robin E. Kobayashi, J.D., LexisNexis Legal & Professional Operations, and Thomas P. Kieselbach, Esq., Cousineau McGuire Chartered, Minneapolis, MN
The Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry’s (DLI) newly released survey on “Workers’ Perspectives on Settlements and Hearings” (February 2013) finds that a large percentage of workers with settlements were concerned about the fairness and outcome of the settlement process, and felt pressured by primarily their attorneys, followed by insurers and employers, to settle their workers’ comp claims. Interestingly, about half of the workers surveyed were not employed, and of those that were employed, approximately half of them reported a decrease in wages compared to their pre-injury wage. Additionally, many workers reported that their medical condition had become worse.
DLI based its survey on surveys mailed to 1,061 workers with settlements (the “settlement group”) and 536 workers with hearings (the “hearing group”) during specified time periods. Completed surveys were received from 323 workers with a settlement (35% response rate) and 204 workers with a hearing (43% response rate).
DLI surveyed workers on:
See survey form for workers with settlements. See survey form for workers with hearings.
Voluntary choice of settlement or hearing: The survey results were mixed as to whether workers voluntarily chose to settle their workers’ comp claims, with a large percentage feeling pressured to settle after speaking to their attorneys about their chances of winning at a hearing. Workers in the settlement group (45%) were twice more likely than the workers in the hearing group (20%) to feel pressured to settle primarily from their attorneys, followed by insurers and employers.
Understanding benefits and arguments: Almost half of both the settlement group and hearing group said they understood the benefits involved in the dispute “some” or “not at all”. About two-thirds of the settlement group said they understood their settlement terms “very well” or “mostly”, with one third of the settlement group having little or no understanding of their agreement.
Expectations and reconsiderations: The majorities of both the settlement and hearing groups reported talking to their attorneys about their chances of receiving a favorable ruling at a hearing. But when asked if they could have a “do-over”, only 29% of the settlement group would settle their claim again, whereas 38% said they would opt for a hearing. In comparison, 33% of the hearing group would go to a hearing again, whereas only 13% would settle.
Employment and medical condition: Only about half of the workers in both groups were employed at the time of the survey. Of those employed at the time of the survey, 56% of the settlement group and 48% of the hearing group reported wages lower than their pre-injury wage. Many workers reported a worsening of their medical condition (41% of settlement group; 45% of hearing group).
Fairness: 21% of the settlement group considered their agreement a fair compromise, whereas 50% of the hearing group considered the judge’s ruling fair.
Dispute resolution and fairness comments: Most of the survey respondees expressed dissatisfaction with the dispute resolution process, specifically the length of the process and the workers’ need for more information. Other concerns were financial pressure, denial of medical and rehabilitation treatment, and pressure from insurers creating what the workers deemed an unfair system.
DLI Recommendations to Improve Workers’ Experiences and Outcomes in Processing and Resolving Their Claim Disputes