May 29, 2012

How Much is My Workers' Comp Back Injury Worth?

People very understandably want to know how much they will be paid for their Iowa work comp injury. Therefore, this is a common question I receive early on in every case.

In the Iowa workers' compensation system there are two main category of injuries: Scheduled injuries and unscheduled injuries. The main differences between these two kinds of injuries are discussed in the workers' compensation practice area section of our website.

construction worker image.jpgFor purposes of this blog entry I am going to discuss the valuation of unscheduled injuries. The most common types of unscheduled injuries are shoulder injuries, back injuries, neck injuries, head injuries, hip injuries, psychological injuries, and chronic pain syndromes. The value of an unscheduled injury is basically the effect that the injury would have on an injured worker's potential future earning capacity.

To assess loss of earning capacity requires looking at many details. Cedar Rapids Community School District v. Pease, 807 N.W.2d 839 (Iowa 2011) is a recent example of an Iowa Supreme Court case analyzing the value of an unscheduled injury. The main factors that are examined, and their significance are as follows:

  • The age of the injured worker: As the age of the worker increases the value of the injury generally also increases.

  • Education: A higher level of education will generally lead to a lower value for the injury.

  • Work qualifications and work experience: An increasing amount of work skills and experience will generally lead to a lower value for the injury.

  • Motivation: An injured employee who is motivated to try to get back to work will generally receive a higher value for his injury than an employee who is not motivated.

  • Loss of actual earnings: If a worker's earnings remain the same or even go up, a worker is not barred from receiving workers' compensation benefits. However, an actual loss of earnings will generally result in a higher injury value.

  • Functional impairment from the injury: Although it is not controlling, a larger physical functional impairment will generally lead to a higher value for the injury.

  • Work restrictions: The more severe work restrictions that are given, and the more they affect a worker's ability to do his regular job generally leads to a higher value for the injury.

  • Inability to engage in employment for which the employee is fitted: Part of this element relates to the fact that workers who have very physical jobs will frequently receive higher value for the same injury than workers who do office work. Additionally, an injury that knocks a worker out of his usual type of job is more valuable than an injury which a worker recovers from and returns to his regular employment.

  • Whether the employer continues to provide the employee a job, or discharges the employee. If an employee is discharged because of the injury that will increase the value. On the other hand, if the employer accommodates the worker's disability that will lower the value of the injury.

Unfortunately, it is usually not possible to give a particularly accurate estimate of the value of an injury early on in a case. Obviously, the final result for many of the factors listed above will take time to develop as a worker goes through medical treatment and the healing process.

Additionally, many of the factors can end up being disputed. Therefore, each side ends up presenting evidence including expert witnesses, and it becomes necessary to assess which side's arguments are stronger on each of the factors.

Another part of the valuation process is using my experience in trying cases in the workers' compensation system to estimate how a particular claim will likely be decided by the Workers' Compensation deputy commissioners.

At Gilloon, Wright & Hamel, P.C. we work very hard on our cases to obtain all the necessary information to value the case as early as possible, and help advise our clients on the likely range of outcomes at trial, and the pros and cons of various settlement possibilities.