Stephen D. Little | Social Security Disability & Worker's Compensation
888-700-7385
701-222-1761

Practices

DIVORCE - Now accepting non-contested divorces.


LITTLE LAW OFFICE - This Bismarck, North Dakota law firm concentrates in the areas of Workers Compensation and Social Security Disability. The firm's principal, Stephen D. Little, has represented thousands of injured and disabled North Dakotans over more than 25 years. He has been recognized by Who's Who, Great Plains Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers in America as an outstanding advocate for his clients. Mr. Little has held Martindale-Hubbell's coveted BV Distinguished rating for 15 consecutive years, demonstrating by peer review both a very high legal ability and ethical standards. He has appeared before the North Dakota Supreme Court, representing injured workers, on more than 85 occasions.


WORKERS COMPENSATION -North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance is a state-run insurance company with no competition, no real oversight and no accountability. Unlike every other insurance company in North Dakota, WSI isn’t regulated by the state insurance department. WSI offers four types of benefits to injured workers:


1. Medical benefits. WSI is obligated by state law to pay for an injured worker’s reasonable and necessary medical care. Of course, there are a few catches. WSI allows employers to select designated medical providers. That means that, if you’re an employee and you haven’t notified your employer in writing that you want to be treated by your own doctor if you’re ever injured on the job, your employer is allowed to choose your treating doctor. Obviously, we all want to control our own medical care. If you don’t know if your employer has a designated medical provider, find out. If he has, tell him in writing that you want to use your family doctor. If you’re ever hurt at work, and need specialized treatment, just get a referral from your family doc. Also, WSI will look for ways to deny your claim or deny medical treatment. One of those ways is to blame your symptoms on a pre-existing condition, whether you knew about it or not. Before you take a new job, it’s a good idea to take a pre-employment physical. If you’re already working and haven’t had a pre-employment physical, it’s a good idea to have your doctor perform a physical exam to document your physical capacity to do your job. Finally, if you’re hurt on the job, file a claim for workers compensation, and receive medical benefits, don’t ever let four years go by without getting treatment or WSI will close your claim.


2. Disability benefits. If you miss more than five consecutive days of work because of a work injury, you’re entitled to disability benefits. In general WSI pays two-thirds of an injured worker’s pre-injury wage. WSI’s disability benefits are capped at 100% of the state’s average weekly wage, so, if you’re a high wage earner, you can expect to lose most of your income while receiving disability benefits. WSI provides different types of disability benefits, namely temporary total disability(TTD) and temporary partial disability (TPD) benefits. TTD benefits are limited to two years or until you reach maximum medical improvement, whichever comes first. TPD benefits are limited to another 5 years. If WSI determines that you can earn any money at all, disability benefits are reduced. If you reach retirement age, you’re considered voluntarily retired instead of disabled and your benefits will be reduced.


3. Vocational Rehabilitation benefits. If you can’t return to your pre-injury job, WSI may assign a vocational rehabilitation worker to find a job you can theoretically perform. Sometimes this involves going back to school, sometimes not. Either way, WSI’s rehabilitation benefit seldom allows you to replace your pre-injury income. So, if you can’t return to your regular line of work, you ought to talk to the voc rehab folks at the nearest regional human services center where they’ll actually try to help you. 4. Permanent Partial Impairment benefits. Sometimes, a workplace injury will leave you with a permanent loss of function which affects other areas of your life besides your ability to work. If your treating doctor tells WSI that you have a permanent partial impairment of at least 14%, you’ll be evaluated, usually by WSI’s chiropractor. If he finds that you have a PPI of 14% or more, you’ll be entitled to a small benefit.


EMPLOYERS WORKER COMPENSATION -Workforce Safety and Insurance assumes that anyone working for pay is an employee. If you’re a businessman and hire independent contractors to help you out, sooner or later you can expect WSI to charge you with back-due premiums, interest and penalties for each of those workers. That’s true even if your workers want to be independent contractors, sign written agreements to be independent contractors, and pay their own income taxes. Not only can WSI penalize you for not carrying workers comp coverage on your workers, it can penalize any other company you provide services for. That’s how WSI works its way up the food chain. If you and your workers want an independent contractor relationship, and you want to avoid the risk of WSI finding them to be employees, you’ll need to have them certified as independent contractors by the state Department of Labor. It takes some work, but it can be done.


SOCIAL SECURITY DISABLILITY - North Dakota is what’s called a “reverse offset state.” That means that, if you’re an injured worker receiving both workers comp disability benefits and Social Security Disability benefits, WSI will subtract half of the SSD benefit from your workers comp benefit. In short, you’ll receive a benefit and a half. The Social Security system isn’t adversarial in the way WSI is, but it is lengthy, frustrating and confusing. It’s my job to guide my clients through the SSD process and gather the evidence needed to help an Administrative Law Judge come to the right decision. It takes many months for an SSD claim to go to hearing. I use that time to gather relevant medical records and, if necessary, medical testing and opinion to persuade a judge that my client needs and deserves his help.


APPELLATE PRACTICE - Some of the decisions Mr. Little has successfully argued before the Supreme Court include:

  • Cridland v. North Dakota Workers Compensation Bureau "We are not persuaded that the Legislature intended to give the Bureau unlimited authority to relitigate issues that should have been raised in a prior formal adjudicative proceeding."

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  • Svedberg v. North Dakota Workers Compensation Bureau, "Functional limitations which existed at the time the claimant was performing the job are elements of the employee as the employer 'found' him and are valid factors which should be taken into consideration when the Bureau determines whether certain employment options present an opportunity for 'substantial gainful employment.'"

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  • Roggenbuck v North Dakota Workers Compensation Bureau, "In some sense, an everyday activity or event can never substantially contribute to the severity, acceleration, or progression of a condition."

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  • Miller v. North Dakota Workforce Safety & Insurance, "It is difficult to imagine a more serious incursion on fairness than to permit the representative of (WSI) to privately communicate his recommendations to the decision makers. To allow such activity would be to render the hearing virtually meaningless."