Understanding Partial Disability
By far, the most common question injured workers have is what kind of benefits are available under the Workers’ Compensation system if an injury prevents a return to their former job. In many people’s minds, if they cannot return to their usual type of work, they are disabled. To understand the concept of a partial disability under the Workers’ Comp law, an injured worker must first understand the goal of system. The primary purpose of the Workers’ Comp law is to pay weekly benefits to an employee injured on the job, if he/she is losing earnings because of the injury. That is why Workers’ Comp is referred to as a “wage replacement system”.
Wages are the measure of a disability, not the severity of an injury nor how much pain and suffering the person has undergone. This is very difficult for many people to accept because their injuries may be significant and cause considerable physical and/or mental pain. To put it bluntly, low wages earners usually will receive less than high wagers for the same injury when it comes to cash benefits. The right to medical treatment is the same for all injured workers.
If an injury prevents a worker from returning to his/her prior job, the question then becomes how much income is being lost. For example, John was a carpenter who fell off a roof and injured his hand. As a result, he can no longer lift heavy weights, and this prevents him from returning to his former line of work.
To determine what type of compensation John will be entitled to in the future, an analysis of John’s lost earning capacity will have to be performed. In addition to looking at what physical restrictions he has from his injury, his background will also be considered. This will include factors such as his age, his educational background, his work history, and what type of skills he may have that can be used in other less demanding jobs.
Although John may not be able to earn his prior wage as a carpenter in a different line of work, this does not mean he is totally disabled. If he’s able to earn something, but less than less than his pre-injury wage, he will be considered “partially” disabled.
The formula that is used to calculate partial disability benefits is a little tricky to follow. First you take the worker’s pre-injury wage and you subtract what his/her residual earning capacity is presently. The difference is then multiplied by 60%.
Continuing with our example of John the carpenter, let’s assume that prior to his injury he made $1000.00 a week on average. Due to his injury and other background factors, he is now only able to make $600.00 a week. This is his residual earning capacity. The difference between his pre-injury wage and his residual earning capacity is $1000.00 – $600.00 = $400.00. His partial disability rate is 60% of the $400.00 or $240.00 a week.
In Massachusetts, partial disability benefits are usually only available for a period of 5 years, and in some cases 4 years if the worker has received 3 years of total disability benefits. In very rare cases, these benefits may be extended up to 10 years. The age of the worker is not the determinative factor with respect to how long a period he/she can collect partial benefits. Unfortunately, even if an injury happens to a young worker, the system will only compensate a small portion of time out of his/her life.