A popular question is whether injured workers can receive both Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) disability benefits and workers’ compensation benefits simultaneously. In most cases, the answer is yes. Many Minnesota first responders, police officers, corrections officers, firefighters, and those in similar occupations who already receive PERA disability pension benefits are also typically entitled to workers’ compensation benefits as well.
Have you received or are receiving PERA retirement and MN workers’ compensation permanent total disability benefits? If the answer is “Yes,” read on.
Under PERA, disabled first responders commonly receive duty disability benefits in addition to workers’ compensation benefits—usually for wage loss—up to the amount of his/her salary at the time the disability began, or the current salary for the same position, whichever is greater. If the benefit combination exceeds this dollar value, then PERA reduces its benefit amount.
Permanent Total Disability (PTD) Defined
In Minnesota, permanent total disability (PTD) refers to an injury that prevents the employee from returning to any type of gainful employment. Thus, PTD involves the total and permanent loss of:
- The sight in both eyes
- Both legs close to the hips to preclude prostheses
- Both arms at the shoulder
- Complete/permanent paralysis
- Permanent loss of mental faculties
PTD is also applicable if the injured worker sustains an injury that totally and permanently precludes him/her from becoming gainfully employed provided that the employee:
- Has, at minimum, a 17 percent partial disability rating of the entire body
- Has a permanent partial disability of at least 15 percent AND was at least age 50 at the time of the injury
- Has a permanent partial disability of at least 13 percent AND was at least age 55 at the time of the injury AND has neither graduated high school nor received a high school equivalency certificate
The insurer must continue payment of PTD benefits to an employee classified as permanently totally disabled even if the employee returns to work in some capacity.
Qualifications for PERA Disability
In order to qualify for PERA disability benefits, the following must occur:
- The injury is total and expected to last at least one year (or permanent)
- The injured employee was employed in public service and under the age of 65 at the time of the disability
- The injured employee must have worked in public service for a minimum of three years, or for two consecutive years after taking a break from such employment
- The disability must have occurred before termination of employment
- The injured worker must not already be receiving PERA disability pension benefits
- The injured employee must provide necessary medical evidence to support his/her disability claim, whenever requested
PERA Duty Disability Benefits
Whereas a career-ending work-related injury qualified an injured employee for PERA duty disability benefits in the past, recent statutory changes pursuant to Minnesota Statute §353.01, Subd. 4 now require the injured worker to demonstrate that his/her disability was the direct result of an injury that occurred while performing “inherently dangerous duties that are specific to the positions covered by the public employees’ police and fire retirement plan.” In other words, a disabled first responder must prove that the injury not only occurred in the line of duty but that these duties were inherently dangerous. However, this ambiguity has neither been adequately addressed nor has the statute been around long enough for any case to make it to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
PERA is taking a strict stance on the new law. Consequently, PERA denies duty disability benefits to many applicants on the grounds that the injury did not occur while performing hazardous enough duties. The question becomes one of what, exactly, is hazardous? Sustaining burns while fighting a fire or being shot in the line of duty are, indeed, perilous; however, aside from these specific situations what else could be construed as hazardous under the law?
What to do if a Claim is Denied
If PERA denies a claim, an appeals process exists in which a qualified rehabilitation consultant performs an employability evaluation, and an independent administrative law judge makes a determination. Regardless of the judge’s recommendations, the PERA Board of Trustees is responsible for the final decision about any disability claim.
Because of the law’s complexity, having an experienced and knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney is crucial. Joshua Borkin has had considerable success in obtaining for injured workers the compensation they deserve. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact us.