Some Minneapolis council members question surge of payouts to cops claiming PTSD

By: - February 11, 2022 4:02 pm

Minneapolis Police officer William Martin stands outside burning buildings near Lake Street in Minneapolis, Minnesota, following protests and property damage surrounding the police killing of George Floyd. Photo by Tony Webster/Minnesota Reformer.

Two new Minneapolis City Council members voted against spending more than $2 million to settle 11 workers’ compensation claims with city employees, almost all of them police officers. 

In an unusual move, Council Member Jason Chavez asked that the package of settlements — an average of $183,000 per settlement — be considered separately from the consent agenda by the council, saying the council had previously approved more than $18 million in workers’ compensation settlements and should research the claims “because some of it is egregious.”

“I hope that we can change state law in the future to help prevent this,” Chavez said. 

The first year PTSD was deemed by the state to be a qualifying workers’ compensation injury was 2013, but the city had just a handful of claims annually until 2019. In 2019, the city had 10 PTSD claims. 

The number of workers’ compensation claims nearly doubled the previous decade’s average in 2020 after George Floyd’s police killing, with scores of police officers filing claims saying they suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. That claim is now cited in a large portion of the city’s workers’ comp claims, city officials have said.

Since Floyd’s murder in May 2020, about 200 PTSD claims have been filed, according to city statistics.

Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said during Thursday’s meeting that council members all have had some questions about the steep increase in claims, which are “incredibly difficult to talk about” due to confidentiality laws. 

“I certainly empathize and feel for any of my colleagues that feel like they’re frustrated and fed up with these claims,” Ellison said. “I think that any frustration from colleagues, from the public, is valid.”

While he said he empathizes with the public and council’s frustration, there’s not a lot the council can do about them, since rejecting the settlements could subject taxpayers to higher payouts.

Council Member Robin Wonsley Worlobah said MPD must begin to address “deep institutional violence.” Otherwise, it is not working for officers or taxpayers, who foot the bill, she said. 

“I am not in a position to litigate individual workers’ compensation settlements, but I think we all can see that we are paying out over $2 million today, and that is just simply not sustainable for our city,” Wonsley Worlobah said. 

The city is self-insured, which means its departments pay premiums into a fund to provide insurance and pay workers’ comp payouts. Minneapolis taxpayers ultimately foot the bill. Frey’s 2022 budget included a one-time $24 million transfer of general funds to shore up the self-insurance fund due to the recent surge of workers’ compensation claims and general liability settlements.

Council Member Aisha Chughtai said she would vote against the settlements, even though she credits city employees who have worked hard to figure out the settlements and are “trying to make the best out of a pretty bad situation.” Once a claim is filed, city employees decide whether to accept, deny or mediate the claim. 

Chughtai and Chavez voted “no” on the settlements, and the rest of the council voted “yes.”

Emily Colby, the city’s director of risk management and claims, who helps negotiate the settlements, has said in the past that settling workers’ comp claims saves the city money in the long run, even if it has to pay more upfront. 

As it has been doing since being hit with the flood of claims to help with cash flow, the city spread out the settlements over two to three years rather than paying one lump sum. 

Updated March 9, 2022 

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.

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