The Importance of Your Impairment Rating
Immediately after you’re injured on the job, you’re considered temporarily but totally disabled—in other words, 100% disabled for a short period. As your injuries heal, your percentage of disability gradually reduces until you’re back to your pre-injury condition.
However, not all injuries will heal completely. After weeks or months of recovery, your doctor may inform you that your condition isn’t likely to improve even with more treatment. This point in your recovery is known as maximum medical improvement (MMI). If you reach MMI but still have physical limitations, your doctor will need to make a disability assessment to determine your impairment rating.
Your impairment rating is vital to your workers’ compensation case. The percentage of impairment assigned by the doctor directly affects the amount of your disability payments, so it should accurately reflect your limitations and abilities.
Your doctor will rate your disability by assigning a percentage (from zero to 100%) for each body part or area affected by the accident and potential limitations when performing various tasks. For example, if your right arm is 25% impaired and your back is 50% impaired, your ability to lift and carry or sit for long periods may be significantly restricted. Your total disability percentage may result in a 100% impairment rating if you have multiple injuries.
Benefits for Temporary and Permanent Disability
The amount of your benefits and the length of time you can collect payments will depend on whether you are totally or partially disabled. All benefits are calculated using a percentage of your average weekly wage (AWW) or your earnings over the 52 weeks before the injury date. Your average weekly wage should include your regular pay rate and any bonuses and overtime, mileage, lodging, parking, and expense reimbursements.
Temporary Total Disability Benefits
In the days after your injury, you may collect temporary total disability benefits. These are paid to employees who cannot work for six or more days but are expected to return to work after their injuries heal. Payments are set at 60% of the employee’s AWW and can be paid for a maximum of 156 weeks (three years).
Temporary Partial Disability Benefits
If you can work but are temporarily earning less than your pre-injury capacity, you may collect temporary partial disability payments. Payments are set at 60% of the difference between your AWW on the date of your injury and the amount of your earnings after your work injury. However, your partial disability payments must be less than 75% of your temporary total disability benefits.
Permanent Partial Disability Benefits
Many employees need permanent benefits if they can only work part-time or have to accept a lower-paying position due to their injuries. If your injuries have reached MMI but you are still working below your full earning potential, you may qualify for permanent partial disability benefits. Partial disability benefits may be paid for up to 260 weeks (five years) or may be extended for up to ten years if your injury involves:
- 75% or more vision loss in one or both eyes
- 75% or more lost use of a limb
- A permanent, disabling occupational illness
- A permanent, life-threatening physical condition
Permanent Total Disability Benefits
Massachusetts employees who are totally and permanently incapacitated due to a job-related injury are entitled to lifelong workers’ compensation payments. As long as your disability prevents you from doing any type of work, permanent total disability benefits have no time limits.
Permanent and total disability is only paid to workers under the following conditions:
- The physical injury will continue indefinitely
- The employee is unable to perform work of any kind
- The condition is not expected to improve (such as permanent paralysis or a spinal cord injury) but may worsen over time
- The workplace was a significant cause of the disability
Specific Loss Awards in Massachusetts
In addition to workers' compensation disability benefits, you could receive an award for the permanent loss of function of certain body parts. The amount awarded is set by state law and depends on the body part and the extent of your loss. Some specific losses include:
- Loss of an eye - AWW multiplied by 39
- Loss of both eyes - AWW multiplied by 96
- Loss of hearing in one ear - AWW multiplied by 29
- Loss of hearing in both ears - AWW multiplied by 77
- Amputation or permanent total loss of use of a dominant arm - AWW multiplied by 43
- Amputation or loss of use of a non-dominant arm - AWW multiplied by 39
- Amputation or loss of use of both arms - AWW multiplied by 96
Our MA Workers’ Compensation Attorneys Can Help
Workers’ compensation insurers want to pay as little as possible for disability claims. The insurance company might dispute your claim, challenge your disability rating, or suggest you can do part-time or sedentary work. They might also offer a lump sum settlement instead of monthly payments.
If you’ve suffered a severe work injury, you should always seek the advice of an attorney before you agree to a settlement. Your choice of representation makes a significant difference in your financial future, so you should speak to Mahaney & Pappas, LLP as soon as possible. Please contact us online, or call 508-879-3500 to schedule a free case evaluation.