In an ideal world, an employee who is injured on the job would get the necessary medical treatment, heal, and return to work with no further complications. Unfortunately, that is often not the case. Some injuries are so severe that the employee is permanently affected by the injury.
Because on-the-job injuries do not exist solely within the ideal world, the state workers’ compensation system provides benefits for employees who suffer permanent impairments even after they have reached their “maximum medical improvement.”
The most basic benefit for a permanent impairment is continued medical treatment and supplies for that specific problem. For example, an employee who loses a limb in a workplace accident is entitled to ongoing treatment for medical problems associated with using a prosthesis. The costs of prostheses would also be covered on an ongoing basis.
One of the biggest issues for injured employees with permanent impairments is income replacement. As discussed in our blog regarding temporary benefits, a primary goal of workers’ compensation insurance is the provision of income while the employee is unable to work. For employees with permanent impairments, that becomes more difficult.
In the worst case scenario, an injured employee is totally and permanently disabled—that is, he is unable to perform any type of work. In that situation, the employee receives income replacement payments, known as Permanent Total Disability, or PTD, equal to 70 percent of his average weekly wage at the time of injury, but capped at 100 percent of the state average weekly wage. These payments can continue for fifteen years or until the employee reaches maximum Social Security age, whichever is longer.
In other cases, an employee with a permanent impairment is deemed capable of working in some capacity, though not in his pre-injury job. In this situation, the employee’s degree of permanent disability is assigned as a percentage of whole body impairment.
The workers’ compensation system typically pays a lump sum amount to the worker based on 70 percent of his average weekly wage, not to exceed $323 per week, for a period of time that is based on the percentage of the whole body impairment. For a whole body impairment of 100 percent, the PPD payment would be 70 percent of the average weekly wage (or $323) times 350 weeks. For an impairment of less than 100 percent, the number of weeks is reduced accordingly.
The attorney fee recoverable in this type of case is set by state statute and is capped at a percentage of benefits paid. If the attorney is able to secure payment of TTD, the attorney fee is 10% of TTD paid. If the attorney is able to secure a settlement or an award for PPD, the attorney fee is 20% of settlement or PPD award.
When an injured worker cannot return to his pre-injury job but is deemed capable of working at another job, he may be eligible for vocational rehabilitation services. This is a significant benefit in that it allows injured employees to gain new knowledge and skills that can open up a range of opportunities. Sometimes there is a fine line between permanent total disability and an employee taking up an entirely new occupation.
If you have questions about an on the job injury or your current workers comp claim here in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area, please call us today at 918-582-2500, or contact us online for a free consultation with an experienced attorney.