Bemidji attorneys awarded for prevailing in 'unwinnable cases'
BEMIDJI, Minn. - After one attorney gave Missy Dodds the impression she had an unwinnable case, she turned to Mark Rodgers for help.
She now calls it "one of the best decisions" she ever made.
Rodgers and Michael Garbow, who make up the Bemidji law firm Rodgers & Garbow, fought for years to win compensation for 10 Red Lake teachers who lost wages due to post-traumatic stress disorder following the March 21, 2005, shooting at Red Lake High School, when 16-year-old Jeff Weise shot and killed five students, a teacher and a security guard before killing himself.
Rodgers & Garbow fought against a 1981 Minnesota Supreme Court decision (Lockwood v. Independent School Dist. No. 877), which ruled that psychological injury was not compensable under the state's workers' compensation act.
"We knew it would be an uphill battle," Rodgers said. "We could not get any other firms in the state to even associate with us on the cases. We were the only firm that was really willing to take on the risk for these very deserving clients."
In 2009, a workers' compensation judge ruled that Dodds should receive compensation for her mental injuries, writing that "the extreme mental stress that the employee experienced at work on March 21, 2005, produced a physical injury to the employee's brain that has left her with severe and unrelenting PTSD."
"The mental stimulus also produced physical injury to the neck and shoulders, which would make the case compensable even if there is no physical injury to the brain," Judge Gary Mesna wrote in his ruling.
Rodgers & Garbow then worked to settle the 10 cases for undisclosed amounts.
"Thanks to them, I won my case," Dodds said. "Nobody else was going to take it."
Rodgers and Garbow now have been named recipients of Minnesota Lawyer's 2012 Attorneys of the Year for their work on the case.
Rodgers said the cases now offer "persuasive authority" for future cases, but are not legally binding.
"(It would) be really great if the immediate responsibility was assumed by workers' compensation insurance," he said. "Then these injured people would get more immediate treatment for their conditions, which would result in a better final outcome for them in terms of their symptoms."
The case brought a lot of positive attention, but there still is a lot of legal uncertainty for people in similar situations, Rodgers said.
"We're probably the leading law firm in the state for dealing with these types of conditions," he said. "Most law firms are still very hesitant to take on such cases."
Rodgers & Garbow is among about 30 recipients of the Attorneys of the Year award, chosen based on their leadership, involvement in major cases, excellence in corporate or transactional services, and public services, according to Minnesota Lawyer.
The awards will be dispersed Feb. 21 during a conference at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis.
"We were immediately interested (in the case) because we knew there should be some justice for these injured teachers," Rodgers said.