Guest Post – January 23, 2018 – Meuser Law Office, P.A. “MN PERA Police and Fire Plan Retirement Benefits and Workers’ Compensation Permanent Total Disability: Have You Been Underpaid?”

Minnesota’s disabled police officers and firefighters are often eligible for disability benefits – either duty or regular – through the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) Police and Fire Plan. However, there are certain age and service limitations regulating who can apply for disability benefits. For PERA Duty Disability benefits, a member cannot apply for Duty Disability if that member is age 55 or older, and has 20 years or more of service credit. For PERA regular disability benefits, a member cannot apply for regular disability if that member is age 55 or older, and has 15 or more years of service credit.

At Meuser Law Office, P.A., it’s not uncommon to see disabled Minnesota police officers and firefighters who are ineligible for disability benefits by virtue of the age and service limitations. In those cases, instead of a disability benefit, typically those police officers or firefighters will take a PERA Police and Fire Plan Retirement benefit if they can no longer work in their position as the result of a work-related injury.

There are complicated rules that govern the interplay between Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits and public disability and retirement pension benefits. A recent law change has drastically changed the rules as to how PERA Police and Fire Plan Disability Benefits are coordinated with workers’ compensation permanent total disability wage loss benefits.

Historically, Minnesota workers’ compensation permanent total disability benefits were subject to offset based on a disabled employee’s receipt of “old age and survivors insurance benefits.” Minn. Stat. § 176.101, Subd. 4. The Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals traditionally interpreted this statute to include public retirement pensions and benefits, including retirement benefits under the Teachers Retirement Association (TRA), the Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS), and the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA).

What this meant in practice is that if an injured worker was deemed to be permanently and totally disabled within the meaning of the Workers’ Compensation Act, and that individual received a public retirement benefit under TRA, MSRS, or PERA, after the first $25,000.00 in permanent total disability wage loss benefits were paid, the workers’ compensation insurer was allowed reduce the workers’ compensation payments dollar-for-dollar based on the employee’s retirement benefit. For example, if the permanent total disability workers’ compensation benefit was the monthly equivalent of $2,500.00 per month and that same injured worker received a retirement pension of $2,000.00 per month, the workers’ compensation insurer would only have to pay the difference between the two – or $500.00 per month. In effect, this shifted the financial burden of a work injury to back to a permanently disabled injured worker. In the context of police officers and firefighters receiving PERA Police and Fire Plan Retirement Benefits, it was not uncommon to see the workers’ compensation permanent total disability benefit completely wiped out after the offset was applied.

On August 13, 2014, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued two opinions which dramatically reversed how retirement benefits are treated in the Minnesota workers’ compensation system. Ekdahl v. Independent School District #213 addressed TRA retirement benefits, and a companion case – Hartwig v. Traverse Care Center – addressed PERA retirement benefits. In short, the Court concluded that the offset rules apply only to Social Security benefits, and not other forms of retirement benefits. Note that this major change in the law also only applies to retirement benefits – not disability benefits under TRA, PERA, or MSRS.

It is clear that subsequent to these cases, any injured worker who is deemed to be permanently totally disabled for purposes of workers’ compensation will not be subject to any offset based on the receipt of PERA retirement benefits. It remains unclear, however, whether the “old” offset rules or the “new” offset rules apply to cases involving injured workers who were deemed to be permanently totally disabled prior to the Court decisions in Ekdahl and Hartwig. Are these individuals entitled to have the offsets cease after the issuance of the Ekdahl and Hartwig decisions? Or, do they have a claim for an underpayment and recoupment of offsets that were deducted by the workers’ compensation insurer prior to the Ekdahl and Hartwig decisions? These are questions that have not yet been answered by the Courts.

What is clear is that if you are a retirement beneficiary and are receiving a retirement through PERA, and you are also receiving permanent total disability workers’ compensation benefits, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced Minnesota workers’ compensation attorney. You may be eligible for a higher weekly workers’ compensation benefit amount, or you may even be entitled to a substantial back payment of workers’ compensation benefits. If you are a retired Minnesota police officer or firefighter who is receiving PERA retirement benefits, and who is also receiving permanent total disability wage loss benefits from the workers’ compensation insurer, contact us today to find out if you are eligible for additional benefits.

Meuser Law Office, P.A., has successfully handled combined workers’ compensation and PERA Duty Disability claims on behalf of Minnesota’s injured firefighters and police officers for the last decade. When it comes to navigating the complicated rules between Minnesota PERA and workers’ compensation to ensure the best outcome on behalf of our police officer and firefighter clients, there is no law firm in the state that does a better job than Meuser Law Office, P.A. 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 by calling 1-877-746-5680.