The Potluck

Council committee OKs another $1.6 million in workers’ comp settlements

By: - September 9, 2021 8:01 pm

Minneapolis Police guard the third precinct on May 27, before it was taken over by rioters. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

A Minneapolis City Council committee voted Thursday to approve $1.6 million worth of workers’ compensation settlements for nine police officers, as the exodus of cops continues in the wake of the George Floyd’s police killing.

As of June, the council had approved 16 settlements worth a total $2.7 million for injuries sustained last year, according to the most recently available data provided by the city. 

That’s just a fraction of the total claims pending: The number of workers’ compensation claims jumped nearly 69% from 2019 to 2020, from 439 to 740 claims, largely due to police officer claims, which rose significantly in the second half of 2020.

The council members noted that they can’t get many specifics due confidentiality laws. But Ronald Meuser Jr., an attorney who says he represents about 200 police officers and firefighters who have filed workers’ comp claims since Floyd’s murder, has said the vast majority left their jobs due to a disability, specifically post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Given the current pace of settlements, the total cost to Minneapolis taxpayers could stretch into the tens of millions. By June, the average settlement cost $169,000, putting the ballpark cost of Meuser’s 200 claims at about $34 million. 

The city is self-insured, which means departments pay premiums into a fund to cover lawsuits and workers’ comp claims; Minneapolis taxpayers ultimately foot the bill. 

Council Member Cam Gordon questioned why the council committee received so little information about the settlements they were asked to approve Thursday. He said he’d like an aggregate report so the council can better understand how the claims compare to years past. 

Council President Lisa Bender said she doesn’t want the public to think the council is sweeping the settlements under the rug, so every time a new batch comes up for approval, she goes over the cost.

“I hope and expect that talking about this financial risk to our city will be part of this year’s budget discussions as well as the conversation we’ll have about the five-year financial projections,” she said.

The Policy and Government Oversight Committee also approved a $1.8 million, three-year contract with Gries Lenhardt Allen to provide workers’ compensation legal services. The city has outsourced workers’ comp litigation since late 2018.

In April, the city increased Gries Lenhardt Allen’s contract by $600,000 to deal with the “significant and unanticipated increase in complex PTSD claims in the second half of 2020.” 

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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.