Today’s post comes from Kristina Thompson at the Jernigan Law Firm.

How much is my workers’ compensation rating worth? And should I accept it? (Part 2)

This is a follow up from our blog earlier this year about workers’ compensation disability ratings.

To recap, a rating is given by a doctor to an injured worker to represent the physical disability the injured worker sustained as a result of a workplace injury.

Keep in mind – the rating value is NOT a settlement of an injured worker’s case. That’s because when an injured worker accepts the rating, s/he still has the right to future medical care (paid for by the insurance company) for that injury. If the proper form (Form 18M) is signed by the authorized treating physician and filed, it is possible for the injured worker to receive lifetime medical treatment for his / her injuries.

How is the value of the rating calculated?

The value of a rating is based on the injured workers’ average weekly wage, the disability percentage given by the doctor multiplied by the number of weeks assigned by the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act to the injured body part.

For example, a complete loss of a thumb is worth 75 weeks of compensation, an arm is worth 240 weeks, a leg is worth 200 weeks, and a foot is worth 144 weeks.

A ten percent rating to an arm for an employee with a compensation rate of $840.00 per week would be worth $20,160.00. [Rating (10%) x Comp Rate ($840.00) x Arm (240 weeks) = $20,160].

It is always important to make sure the average weekly wage is properly calculated to make sure the rating value is accurate.

Should I accept the rating?

Generally, if an injured worker can return to his or her pre-injury employment, earning the same or greater wages, the rating value may be fine to accept. However, when an injured worker cannot return to their old job because of their injury, the rating may not be the best choice. This is because by accepting the rating, an injured worker is choosing the rating value instead of ongoing disability weekly benefits.

North Carolina law allows for 500 weeks of temporary total or partial disability. In unfortunate situations where an injured worker cannot return to his/her old job, s/he would be better off choosing ongoing benefits instead of the rating.

As an example, Paul Bunyan is an arborist and his job is extremely physical. One day a tree falls on his leg. After surgery, the doctor gives him a 20% rating to the leg and permanent work restrictions that prevent him from ever returning to tree removal, the only job he has ever known. The rating value for Paul is $33,600 [20% x 200 weeks x $840 = $33,600]. Paul needs retraining and vocational rehabilitation. It will likely take him a year or two to return to work, possibly more. Two years of disability is worth $87,360. In this case, Paul should not take the rating because it is unclear when (or even if) he can return to work. If he took the $33K rating, he would be giving up potentially $87K of wage loss benefits that would more adequately compensate him for his loss.

The decision to accept the rating, in lieu of ongoing benefits, has legal consequences. Think carefully before signing the Form 26A (rating form) and consider your future employability. Lastly, always talk to your doctor about future medical care so you know what you might need in the future.