Most Minnesotans are familiar with workers' compensation: a no-fault system under state law in which employers carry insurance coverage for employee work-related injury. This compensation is the exclusive remedy for work-related harm; normally an employee may not also sue the employer for damages for the same injury.
While it sounds straightforward, sometimes the connection between work and an injury is not easily discernible. In those cases, it can be particularly crucial for an injured Minnesota worker to retain an experienced workers' comp attorney to assist with the claim.
The Minnesota Supreme Court established the standard for coverage when current work duties aggravate a pre-existing medical condition in the 1960 case of Gillette v. Harold, Inc. Ever since, this situation has been called a Gillette injury in Minnesota workers' compensation law.
The claimant Gillette was a long-term, full-time salesperson at a fashionable downtown Minneapolis department store. She developed a non-work-related medical problem in her left big toe that caused pain and stiffness, and was treated surgically. After this, the toe would become more painful after Gillette was on her feet almost all day, during which she walked an incredible 18 miles or so.
Eventually the condition caused partial disability from incremental aggravation or acceleration of the old injury. The court emphasized that when everyday work duties negatively impact a pre-existing medical problem, even slowly or gradually over time, the resulting medical problem is a work-related personal injury for workers' comp purposes.
The opinion recognized that not all people are hired at a time when they are in perfect physical condition, and that their pre-existing medical problems are compensable in workers' comp if resulting normal job duties aggravate them.
The nature of a Gillette-type injury can make it difficult to prove. Obviously, physical harm that is minutely degenerative from regular work duties over time would be less obvious than a sudden, dramatic injury. The Gillette analysis looks at the types of duties and activities required at work and the medical evidence. Specifically, does the work cause ongoing, incremental aggravation of a pre-existing injury or condition?
It does not matter whether the original injury was work-related; the Gillette injury looks at whether any previous medical condition has been worsened by current work duties. The Minnesota Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals defined a Gillette injury by saying that "it did not arise from a single traumatic event, but from the effects of repetitive minute trauma."
Seek legal counsel
Any Minnesotan who, because of his or her work duties, has experienced an aggravation of a previous injury should speak with a knowledgeable Minnesota workers' compensation lawyer about whether the condition is a compensable Gillette-type injury. This area of law is factually and legally complex and the advice of and representation by skilled legal counsel can be important in establishing a Gillette claim.