Who Can Get Reimbursed for Transporting an Injured Worker to a Medical Appointment?

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The Minnesota workers’ compensation statute provides for reimbursement of “medical mileage” when the employee travels by car for necessary medical care. Reimbursement of medical mileage directly to the employee is supported by case law. It is also supported by rule. See Minn. Rule 5221.0500, Subpart 2E.

This Rule states that travel expenses incurred by an employee for compensable medical services shall be paid at the rate equal to the rate paid by the employer for ordinary business travel expenses, or the rate paid by the State of Minnesota under the Commissioner’s plan for employment-related travel, whichever is lower. This figure is adjusted every year. It can be secured from the website at the Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI).

For the calendar year, 2014, the mileage reimbursement rate is 56¢ per mile. It is also generally understood, that an employer and insurer are liable for the cost of professional medical transportation if the services are reasonably required to convey the employee for treatment necessitated by the work injury. In other words, if the injured worker cannot drive to an appointment; then the employer and insurer are liable for the reasonable cost of a medical transportation service or a taxi. To secure reimbursement for such a service, one needs to provide receipts documenting the costs incurred. The insurer then has 30 days to reimburse them.

Until recently, it was less clear whether other compensation – besides mileage – was available when an injured employee had a friend or relative to drive them to necessary medical treatment when the employee could not drive. In a December, 2013 case, decided by the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA), this question was answered. That decision is Kuhnau v. Manpower, Inc., No. WC135592 (WCCA, December 16, 2013).

In Kuhnau, the injured worker was unable to drive himself to his medical appointments as a result of his work injury. As such, his wife drove him. Reimbursement was then sought not only for the medical mileage incurred, but also for the reasonable value of the spouse’s time in transporting her husband to a necessary medical treatment. The lower court determined the spouse’s services were “necessary for transportation” to medical appointments, but concluded the law did not allow it to order reimbursement for her time. She was reimbursed for the actual medical miles incurred and some meal expenses, however.

On review of Kuhnau, the WCCA reversed the compensation judge’s decision and remanded the case for an award of reasonable compensation for the spouse’s assistance driving the employee to necessary medical appointments. In doing so, the Court noted that time involved is one factor for the judge to consider in making this decision. It was also noted the Judge could award payment for meals and mileage separately – or the Judge could include those expenses in the decision as to what constitutes a reasonable overall transportation expense.

In arriving at this conclusion, the WCCA found that the employee in Kuhnau required somebody to drive him to his medical appointments. By doing that, his spouse was providing a service “incidental to the required medical treatment, itself and if an employer would be liable for the cost of medical or other transport without such help, there is no basis for denying a reasonable fee to the spouse.” The Court opined that the help of family or friends in cases where the injured worker cannot drive to doctor visits, “is likely to be less expensive than other forms of transportation.”

Thus, the WCCA concluded that compensating family and friends for an employee’s necessary medical transportation to medical treatment is likely to reduce overall costs to the system – a result that is consistent with the overall goal of the Minnesota workers’ compensation statute.

On its face, the holding of Kuhnau is limited to transportation for medical treatment. However, in a footnote, the WCCA suggested that if an injured worker is permanently and totally disabled, then other necessary driving may be reimbursable under the workers’ compensation statute.

This decision accords with common sense. If a family or friend takes time to drive an injured worker to a doctor visit that the injured worker cannot drive to herself, then they can be reimbursed for the reasonable cost of their time. Ascertaining the reasonable cost of the value provided may involve a little digging. Those interested in determining the value of services could contact a professional medical transportation service to find out the hourly rate. Proof of that cost could then be submitted along with an itemization of time and expenses, so that proper reimbursement can be secured.

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