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Landmark workers' comp award for teacher in Red Lake High School shooting

Molly Miron Bemidji Pioneer
Published Monday, March 02, 2009

After almost four years, former Red Lake High School math teacher Missy Dodds won a court case for Workers Compensation for mental trauma causing mental injury.

Students were killed in Dodds' classroom March 21, 2005, when 16-year-old Jeff Weise went on a shooting rampage that killed five other students and a teacher at the school and injured several others. He broke into Dodds' classroom by shooting out a window. The attack ended when Weise killed himself.

Dodds still remembers the scene when Weise pointed his gun at her and pulled the trigger. The gun was empty.

Since then, Dodds has suffered psychological and physical symptoms and has not been able to return to work.

Mark Rodgers of Rodgers Law Office in Bemidji said his firm works primarily in injury and Workers Compensation cases. He said the conventional outlook on the case was that it should not have been heard in court based on the 1981 Lockwood decision, which barred claims for post traumatic stress disorder caused by exposure to mental stimulus. Consequently, Rodgers said, the outcome of the case is a precedent.

Following a six-day trial beginning in September in Beltrami County District Court, Judge Gary Mesna decided Monday that Dodds should receive compensation for her mental injuries.

"This case is compensable because ... the mental stimulus, which was 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, depression and anxiety," Mesna said in his ruling. "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."

Mesna ordered the Red Lake School District to pay Dodds at the appropriate rate for permanent total disability benefits according to Workers Compensation law.

Mesna is a judge with the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings Workers Compensation Division.

"It's been a real emotional morning," Dodds said Monday. "But I'm really thankful for the way it turned out. I'm so grateful to Mark and Mike."

Rodgers said attorneys Mike Garbo and Yuri Jelekov and Rodgers Law Office staff worked together on the case.

"We worked closely with Education Minnesota on this, too," he said. "We put in over $100,000 of attorneys' time and over $45,000 in costs."

Those costs included obtaining testimony from local and national expert witnesses, he said, adding that his firm will petition the court for payment of the hours they have put in.

"We went to the wall for Missy Dodds," Rodgers said.

Dodds said reliving the day of the attack during the trial was difficult, but the outcome is a great relief.

"It was the worst day ever - those were my babies and what happened to them was horrible," she said of the shootings.

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