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Minnesota Supreme Court Defines Total Disability in the Occupational Sense for a Worker Suffering From Back Pain

A Minnesota Supreme Court defines total disability in the occupational sense for a farm worker who was disabled due to back pain.

Clifford Ryan worked for a farm company when he was injured in an occupational accident. His accident caused injuries requiring surgery. He filed for and received disability benefits for about two months through his employer provided insurance policy. About six months later, he was laid off from his employment at the farm. Upon his lay off, his coverage under the insurance policy ended.

Mr. Ryan had difficulty maintaining work following his injury and lay off from the farm. He suffered from back problems which caused severe pain. He attributes his back pain to the injuries he suffered during the occupational accident. Thus, he believes he is entitled to disability benefits under the insurance policy.

What does Total Disability mean in the Occupational Sense?

The Minnesota Supreme Court determined that whether Mr. Ryan is totally disabled under the policy is a question of fact. The Court held that Mr. Ryan must have been unable to engage in his regular occupation to be totally disalbed.

Notably, the Court pointed out that in an occupational sense, a person does not have to be completely incapable of physically working within the occupation. Instead, they have to be disalbed from performing the material and substantial duties of their occupation.

As disability insurance attorneys, we see this issue often. Insurance companies try to paint a picture of a person who is capable of some tasks as not disalibed. That is not necessarily the case. Occupational disability depends on how well a person can perform the main duties of their occupation.

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