Many injured workers are aware that they can receive permanent partial disability benefits if an injury leaves them with a permanent impairment. These same workers are not always aware that they should be compensated for the total impairment to the body part, not just the impairment resulting from the current work injury. (These benefits will be reduced if the injured worker has already been compensated for impairment to the same body part or is eligible to be compensated for impairment of the same body part)
Many doctors are not aware that they should be providing an opinion on the total impairment not just the impairment resulting from the recent work injury. Frequently a worker will injure a body part and receive a modest impairment rating (5%, for example) that represents only that portion of the impairment resulting from the recent work injury. If the same worker already had impairment to the same body part, whether that impairment was from arthritis or a prior injury, the impairment rating should reflect the total impairment to the body part.
If the total impairment in our example was actually 25% and there was no right to a reduction due to prior benefits being paid or payable, unknowingly accepting a 5% rating would effectively result in a forfeiture of 80% of the permanent partial disability benefits that an injured worker should receive. Since the duration of permanent partial disability benefits also dictates the duration of benefits an injured worker may claim under C.G.S. 31-308a, this forfeiture results in a double loss.
Although not required by law to do so, doctors frequently utilize the American Medical Association guidelines to the evaluation of permanent impairment when offering an opinion on permanent impairment. This can give the impression that the impairment rating is a cut and dried matter. This is not always the case.
The guidelines frequently provide multiple means of assessing permanent impairment for the injured body part. The guidelines also alternate between whole person impairments, regional impairments, and impairments to the specific body parts. If a doctor provides an impairment rating that is intended to be a whole person impairment rating, it needs to be converted to a rating recognized under our Workers' Compensation laws (Our statutes do not recognize whole person ratings)
An injured worker should be very careful to determine that he/she is being properly compensated for permanent partial disability (Impairment) benefits before signing a voluntary agreement. If signed and approved by a commissioner, it may be impossible to correct a mistake later. If you are unsure whether you're being properly compensated, you could contact the Law Offices Of Mark Merrow for a FREE consultation.