In Minnesota, an employer has a responsibility to provide medical treatment that is reasonable and necessary to care and relieve the employee from the effects of a work injury. Minn. Stat. § 176.135. This includes providing whatever transportation assistance is reasonably required to allow the employee to obtain proper treatment, and an employee is entitled to reimbursement of reasonable medical mileage expenses.
In this case, the employee sustained an admitted low back injury in 1988 and entered into a stipulation for settlement, settling past and future claims for indemnity benefits but leaving open reasonable, necessary, and causally related medical expenses. In 2012, the employee requested authorization for a multi-fusion back surgery, which a compensation judge granted. Following the surgery, the employee could not drive himself to medical appointments, so he claimed entitlement to payment, on an hourly basis, for his wife’s time in caring for him, which included the time she spent driving the employee from Alexandria to the Twin Cities for treatment. Her time was calculated using the wage she had earned in her job prior to retirement.
At a hearing on the matter, the compensation judge found the wife’s services were “necessary for transportation” to medical appointments and awarded reimbursement of mileage and meals associated with medical travel, but denied the claim for reimbursement of the wife’s time.
On appeal, the W.C.C.A. reversed the judge’s decision and remanded for a decision and award of reasonable compensation for the employee’s wife’s assistance for driving the employee to necessary medical appointments. The W.C.C.A. noted, the wife was “simply providing a service incidental to the required medical treatment itself, and, if an employer would be liable for the cost of medical or other transportation without such help, there is no basis for denying a reasonable fee to the spouse. In fact, the help of family and friends in cases such as this one is likely to be less expensive than other forms of transportation. As such, compensating family and friends for the employee’s necessary transportation to medical treatment is likely to reduce overall costs to the system.”
The W.C.C.A. provided some guidance as to what the compensation judge should consider when deciding what constitutes reasonable reimbursement. Time is one factor. Additionally, a judge may also award payment for meals and mileage separately, or may include those expenses in her decision as to what constitutes a reasonable transportation expense overall.
The holding in this case was limited to transportation for medical treatment. The W.C.C.A. highlighted other necessary driving may be compensable if the employee is permanently and totally disabled.
Employers and insurers should be wary that employees may attempt to claim entitlement to additional reimbursement under this holding. A compensation judge will have to determine each claim on a case-by-case basis because the W.C.C.A. did not specifically address an exhaustive list of all factors a compensation judge should consider. This case could create an entire subset of litigation regarding medical transportation reimbursement for family members (or even friends) of an injured employee.