The practice of assigning monetary values to various parts of the body is an essential part of employment law. Insurance companies and government agencies use these figures thousands of times per day to complete a variety of essential calculations. Without a standardized system for quantifying losses of limbs, eyes, ears and various other organs, the practices and protocols that encourage the orderly dispensation of workers’ compensation and permanent partial disability payments would collapse.
Permanent partial disability describes a condition in which an individual becomes unable to use part of his or her body on a permanent basis. It may entail the physical loss of some or all of a certain body part, the functional loss of a certain body part, or the functional loss of the use of the entire body through paralysis or head injury.
Since the body is comprised of dozens of different parts that interact with one another in a complex fashion, the vast majority of state labor departments and insurance companies use a standardized “schedule” to calculate losses. Known as the Permanent Partial Disability Schedule, this tool describes the monetary value of a given body part in terms of the number of weeks of workers’ compensation payments to which workers who suffer its loss are entitled.
For instance, a worker who loses the use of his entire thumb is entitled to 76 weeks of workers’ compensation payments. Larger and more important body parts tend to confer longer payment periods. Whereas the total loss of a pinky toe confers 13 weeks of workers’ compensation benefits, a large toe is worth 38 weeks. Likewise, redundant injuries that cause more serious problems tend to be worth substantially more than non-redundant injuries. Whereas a worker who loses a single testicle is entitled to just 54 weeks of benefits, a worker who loses both testicles simultaneously is entitled to 162 weeks of benefits due to the injury’s implications for his capacity to procreate.
The Permanent Partial Disability schedule is expressed as either a body diagram or a textual table. In either case, it provides the basic framework for calculating the dollar value of scheduled injuries.
Arriving at this value is relatively straightforward. Assuming a benchmark workers’ compensation rate of 60 percent of pre-injury income, the value of a total loss of a scheduled body part is the product of the workers’ compensation rate and the number of payment weeks specified by the schedule.
For instance, a worker who earned a pre-injury wage of $1,000 per week would be entitled to a workers’ compensation rate of $600 and a payment period of 76. Accordingly, the total loss of her thumb would entitle her to a wage-loss benefit of $45,600. In cases of non-total losses in which functionality is impaired but not destroyed, these calculations can be prorated. Had she suffered a mere 20 percent loss of functionality in her thumb, this same worker would be entitled to 15.2 weeks of workers’ compensation benefits worth $9,120.
The federal government plays no role in decisions pertaining to workers’ compensation. Each state labor department administers its own workers’ compensation program and adheres to one of four main loss-calculation methods for non-scheduled losses. These are known as “impairment-based,” “wage-loss,” “loss-of-earning-capacity,” and “bifurcated.”
The “impairment-based” approach attempts to calculate the value of a non-scheduled spinal or head injury according to the degree of medical care and living assistance that the worker who sustained it is likely to require in the future. It may also take into account his or her future ability to work. Unsurprisingly, this approach leaves ample room for disagreement.
The “wage-loss” and “loss-of-earning-capacity” approaches attempt to calculate the impact of an unscheduled injury on the injured worker’s current and future wages. The former calculates the actual amount that the injured worker stands to lose as a result of her diminished capacity to work while the latter projects her post-injury lifetime earning capacity.
Both the “wage-loss” and “loss-of-earning-capacity” methods also leave substantial room for error. In fact, the fallibility of calculations of non-scheduled injuries underscores the importance of the Permanent Partial Disability Schedule. Without it, workers’ compensation law would be far more chaotic.
This article was composed by Eric Stratton, Chairman of Rush Industries, for the team at social care jobs.