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  • Writer's pictureRachel Scott

Understanding Permanent Partial Disability Awards and How They're Calculated

In the aftermath of an accident or injury, individuals often face not only physical pain and emotional distress but also financial burdens due to medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses. In some cases, these injuries may result in permanent partial disabilities, affecting the victim's ability to work and lead a normal life.


To address the needs of injured individuals, the legal system provides compensation through permanent partial disability awards. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of permanent partial disability awards, exploring how they are calculated, factors that impact the compensation amount, and the differences between physical and mental disabilities as well as body part injuries versus back and neck injuries.


Understanding Permanent Partial Disability


Permanent partial disability refers to a condition in which an individual sustains an injury that results in a lasting impairment but does not render them completely disabled. It encompasses both physical and mental disabilities and is awarded based on the extent of the impairment and its impact on the victim's ability to perform work-related tasks. Permanent partial disability awards aim to compensate individuals for their loss of earning capacity and the lifelong challenges they may face (RCW 51.08.150 & WAC 296-20-19000).


Calculating Permanent Partial Disability Awards


Permanent partial disability awards are determined through a complex process that takes various factors into account. The primary method used for calculating these awards is the impairment rating system (WAC 296-20-200). Experts authorized to conduct rating examinations must evaluate bodily impairment. Once the examination is complete, the provider will assign the appropriate category for each affected bodily area or system in the specific claim and include this information in the report.


Along with describing the worker's condition, the provider will also present their conclusions regarding the severity of the impairment using a defined condition, rather than offering a personal opinion in the form of a percentage. The impairment rating is then multiplied by a predetermined dollar amount established by state workers' compensation laws. This calculation ultimately determines the compensation amount (RCW 51.32.080(2).


Back Claims and Other Body Part Injuries


Back injuries are among the most common types of injuries that lead to permanent partial disabilities. These injuries can range from herniated discs to spinal fractures (WAC 296-20-280). Back injuries are classified into categories 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, with each category corresponding to specific percentage values. The assignment of these values depends on the year in which the injury occurred. Each year has its own set of schedules that determine the total impairment value for that particular year.


The category rating section covers various body systems, including the cervical, dorsal, dorsolumbar and lumbosacral spine, pelvis, neurological system, mental health, respiratory system, taste and smell, speech, skin, and internal organs.


Category 1 entails no payment, Category 2 offers some financial compensation, and Category 3 provides a higher payout, and so on. The charts corresponding to your specific year of injury will indicate the monetary value associated with your category rating.


Factors Impacting the Amount of Compensation


Several factors can influence the amount of compensation awarded in permanent partial disability cases. These factors include:

  1. Date of the Injury: The date of the injury is important because of the yearly price index that L&I puts out for a particular injury. As you might imagine, the amount L&I pays for an injury increases each year. Your date of injury will determine which permanent partial disability awards schedule applies to your case.

  2. The Severity of the Injury: The severity of your injury is assessed through an impairment rating, commonly referred to as a permanent partial disability (PPD) rating. These ratings are determined by medical professionals, often an independent medical examiner (IME) doctor, your own doctor, or both. It is crucial to obtain a favorable PPD rating, as it significantly impacts the amount you may receive in your settlement.

  3. Medical Evidence and Expert Opinions: Medical reports and assessments from experts play a crucial role in establishing the extent of the disability and its impact on the individual's ability to work (WAC 296-20-01002).


Mental vs. Physical Disabilities


In addition to physical disabilities, mental disabilities can also lead to permanent partial disability awards. Mental disabilities, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or severe depression, can have profound effects on an individual's ability to perform work tasks and function in society. Evaluating mental disabilities for permanent partial disability awards can be more complex than physical disabilities due to the subjective nature of mental health conditions. However, with proper documentation and expert evaluations, individuals suffering from mental disabilities can also be eligible for compensation (WAC 296-20-330).


Body Parts vs. Back and Neck Categories


When it comes to permanent partial disability awards, injuries to specific body parts are often categorized differently from injuries to the back and neck. Body part injuries typically have predetermined impairment ratings assigned by medical professionals based on standardized guidelines. These ratings are then used in conjunction with compensation values established by state laws to calculate the award amount.


For instance, an injury to the leg that results in amputation will have higher awards the more of the leg is removed. Therefore, the Washington State Legislature categorizes awards using language like, “Of leg below knee joint” and, “of leg at ankle”. These categories go into body parts like toes, fingers, eyes, and anything else that can cause significant impairment to a person when injured (RCW 51.32.080). These categories also are used for benchmarks for total loss. A person may have knee surgery and significant impairment of their leg. Using a percentage of the amputation value of the leg is how the award is calculated.


On the other hand, back and neck injuries are evaluated through a more individualized process. Due to the complexity and variability of these injuries, they require a comprehensive assessment of the impairment's impact on the individual's daily activities, work capabilities, and overall quality of life. Medical records, diagnostic tests, and expert evaluations are crucial in determining the impairment rating and subsequent compensation (WAC 296-20-240).


Scott & Scott, PLLC: Your Fiercest Advocate


At Scott & Scott, PLLC, we understand the challenges that individuals face when dealing with permanent partial disability claims. We are a team of experienced personal injury attorneys dedicated to fighting for the rights of workers and citizens, offering our support and expertise throughout the legal process.


Our firm specializes in a wide range of cases, including automobile accidents, workers' compensation claims, insurance claims, disability insurance, brain and spinal cord injuries, and product liability. We have extensive experience handling claims arising from accidents that occur on construction sites, factory floors, stores, offices, and highways. Our goal is to provide the highest level of legal representation and be a staunch advocate for our clients' interests.


If you or a loved one has suffered a workers’ compensation injury with permanent partial disability, we encourage you to reach out to us at (206) 622-2200. Our compassionate and skilled attorneys will guide you through every step of the process, working tirelessly to secure the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a consultation, and let us be your unwavering ally in your pursuit of justice.


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