Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Many workers’ compensation systems pay a separate award for “permanent impairment.” It’s the closest thing in workers’ compensation to the “pain and suffering” damages that you may get in a “normal” auto crash or similar injury case. Permanent impairment awards are based on your functional status at the point in time when you reach “Maximum Medical Improvement,” or “MMI.” MMI is nothing more than that point in time when you are as healed as you are going to be, at least until something else happens. (Sometimes “MMI” is a little fluid–think of a knee injury where you heal as much as you are going to, so you are “at MMI,” but 10 years down the road that injury is going to require a knee replacement, and you know that even now. After the knee replacement, you will eventually have a “new MMI,” that will re-calculate your functional status in light of the new knee and the changed medical condition that it causes.)
“Permanency,” as permanent impairment is known, is determined by a doctor who is qualified to examine you and then look up your injuries in a book called the “Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment,” produced by the American Medical Association. It all gets converted into a percentage loss of function. In simple terms, if you amputate a finger in a machine, you have 100% impairment of that finger, some corresponding percentage impairment that the missing finger causes in the hand (a lost thumb may be considered 40% impairment of a hand), a corresponding loss of function of that arm, and so on up the line to “whole person impairment.” Example: An amputated thumb comes out to roughly 26% impairment of the whole person, depending on where the thumb is amputated (i.e. at the base of the thumb, or at the knuckle, etc.)
So when you reach MMI, different things happen in different workers’ comp systems. In NH, the statute that will govern your injury is here: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/RSA/html/XXIII/281-A/281-A-32.htm esp. section II. You are entitled to an exam by a doctor who performs permanent impairment ratings, and that exam is paid for by the carrier. Once you have a rating, different systems use that figure differently, but most systems base some kind of compensation payment on conversion of the percentage whole person impairment into a payment of some number of weeks of your Average Weekly Wage (AWW–for more on that, go here).
Bottom line: Pay close attention to when your healing is at a plateau, and you may not get any better from your work injury. And consult with a lawyer as soon as possible if you have a work injury–workers’ compensation has too many moving parts to go it alone.