REHABILITATION PLAN GOALS – Gilbertson v. Williams Dingmann, LLC, A16-0895 (Minn. May 3, 2017)
In this case, Gilbertson (Employee) suffered a low back injury while working for Williams Dingmann (Employer). The Employer accepted liability and paid benefits, including medical expenses. The Employee subsequently ended her employment on October 13, 2001 and met with a Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant (QRC) to work toward her vocational goals. The QRC completed a Rehabilitation Plan and listed that the employee’s goal was to “[return to work with a] different employer.” The plan was agreed upon by the Employer’s insurer, the Employee, and the QRC.
On June 18, 2012, the Employer offered a job to the Employee to return to work there. The job was at the same compensation and work schedule as the Employee’s previous job with the Employer. The Employee ultimately declined the job offer. On July 3, 2012, the Employer filed a Notice of Intention to Discontinue Benefits and asserted that the Employee had refused a suitable job offer. The compensation judge agreed with the Employer and terminated the Employee’s benefits. The Employee appealed this ruling to the WCCA and prevailed. The WCCA concluded that the job offer was not consistent with the Rehabilitation Plan because it was not a job offer from a different employer. The case was appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the decision by the WCCA and held that the offer to return to work with the same employer was not “consistent with” the parties agreed-upon Rehabilitation Plan to return the Employee to work with a different employer. The Court applied a plain meaning analysis to Minn. Stat. § 176.101, subd. 1(i) (2016) and found that the statute was not ambiguous. The Employer argued that the compensation judge should look at the totality of the circumstances when making the determination to terminate benefits based on a refused job offer, and not be strictly limited by the specific language in the Rehabilitation Plan. The Employer also argued that reading a Rehabilitation Plan so narrowly ignores the legislative objective of rehabilitation, in that it is intended to restore injured workers to former employment. The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed and held that the Employer had the opportunity to object to the terms of the Rehabilitation Plan, but since it did not, it was bound by the terms of that agreement.
The message from the Minnesota Supreme Court is that employer and insurer must be careful as to what is in the Rehabilitation Plan (R-2). The Rehabilitation Plan is in essence a contract between the parties. If possible always keep the return to work with original employer in the R-2. When in doubt consult with legal counsel and make certain you are positioned to timely object to an unfavorable R-2.
The case is Gilbertson v. Williams Dingmann, LLC, A16-0895 and can be found here:http://www.mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/Appellate/Supreme%20Court/Standard%20Opinions/OPA160895-050317.pdf