Understanding Permanent Partial Disability

Although the workers’ compensation program is the nation’s oldest social insurance program, there is little federal role in state workers’ comp. As a result, the coverage for workers’ comp programs can vary greatly, incorporating a different set of rules and administrative practices as well as disparate benefits. One of the greatest disparities is associated with workers’ compensation permanent partial disability. More than half of all workers’ comp cases involve permanent partial disability, which is defined as any temporary disability which lasts longer than seven days. The other types of disability defined under workers’ comp are permanent total disability, temporary total disability and temporary partial disability. Each category of disability benefits are payable for a maximum of 450 weeks (medical benefits are not included in this maximum).

Impairment or Disability?

It is important to first differentiate between the terms impairment and disability. Impairment encompasses a chronic condition, the natural aging process, or an injury or illness, any of which can be evaluated in medical terms. A disability, on the other hand represents the socioeconomic losses resulting from an injury, illness or condition. For a workers who cannot return to work, the disability is serious. States pay permanent partial disability for an impairment, a disability, or the combination of the two. Permanent partial disability benefits are paid following, and in addition to, temporary disability benefits, and will begin on the date the temporary disability payments end.

Scheduled Body Parts vs. Unscheduled Conditions

Permanent disability depends on whether the loss is for an injury to the body as a whole or a scheduled body part. For a scheduled body part—usually the upper and lower extremities and eyes—there are specific number of weeks’ payable, calculated by applying the percentage of industrial loss of the use of the body part and the number of weeks in the schedule. These benefits are paid biweekly rather than in a lump sum, unless by order of the Commission. The “value” of the specific body part is based on such things as the claimant’s age, skills, rating, work experience, education, training, work restrictions and post-injury work history, although most states, including Mississippi, does not include age when making the determination.

For body as a whole cases, the claimant is entitled to two-thirds of his or her wage-earning capacity, payable over 450 weeks. Unscheduled conditions generally include injuries to the spine, injuries to internal organs, concussions and traumatic brain injuries and occupational diseases. In order to calculate benefits for unscheduled permanent partial disabilities, there are four primary methods used:

  • The impairment-based method allows the worker to receive benefits based on the degree of impairment, disregarding future earnings losses;

  • The loss-of-earning-capacity approach links the worker’s ability to earn or compete in the labor market;

  • The wage-loss approach pays benefits for actual or ongoing losses experienced by the workers, and

  • The bifurcated approach awards benefits based on the worker’s employment status at the time his or her condition is assessed, after the condition has stabilized.

The state of Mississippi uses the bifurcated approach, basing benefits on workers’ pre-injury wages. This is also known as “individual justice,” as opposed to “average justice.” Under the individual justice theory, the specific worker’s circumstances are considered, then those circumstances are used to assess the economic impact of the permanent partial disability on that specific individual. The theory of average justice makes the assumption the legal system can estimate a “typical” loss associated with a permanent partial disability, treating all workers with similar losses the same.

Contact Our Jackson Worker's Compensation Attorneys

If you are having difficulty obtaining equitable benefits through workers’ compensation, speaking to a knowledgeable Mississippi workers’ compensation attorney could be beneficial. Your future is on the line—talk to an experienced attorney immediately. At Coxwell & Associates, PLLC, our attorneys fight aggressively for injured employees and their families – to ensure that they receive the money they need to fully recover. Contact Coxwell & Associates today at 1-601-948-1600 or 1-877-231-1600.

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