As I have talked about in other posts, and at our website, there are two main categories of injuries in the Iowa Workers’ Compensation System:
1. Scheduled Injuries.
2. Unscheduled-Industrial Disability Injuries. (Go here for longer explanation of the difference between these two types of injuries.)
The industrial disability injuries generally involve problems with the neck, shoulders, back, and hips. If you have one of these industrial disability type injuries the main question to determine how many weeks of benefits you are entitled to is how the injury affects your potential earning capacity in the competitive labor market. (Go here for a more in depth explanation of the factors that go into determining the extent of damages for an industrial disability type injury).
The Workers’ Compensation Deputy Commissioners and the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner are the final decision makers on the question of how much industrial disability you have suffered, and they are considered to be experts on this question.
There is also a real common sense aspect to determining how an injury will affect a worker’s future ability to get a job and earn money in the competitive labor market.
Let’s use the example of a 55 year old worker with a high school education, no computer skills, and a lifetime work history of manual labor in the construction field. Let’s further assume that the worker suffers a back injury, and is given work restrictions limiting how much he can lift, limiting how much he can bend, and requiring him to take frequent breaks and to be able to alternate between lying down, sitting down, and standing.
Most of us would agree that for a person with this background that back injury is going to be a serious problem that is going to limit the worker’s ability to get jobs and earn money in the future.
However, in some cases our law firm will also hire a vocational rehabilitation expert to analyze the case and provide a report or trial testimony about the amount of the loss of earning ability.
Part of the value of what a vocational rehabilitation expert can bring to the case is that they are able to use their knowledge of the specifics of what every potential job in the United States requires, and whether or not the injured worker can meet those job qualifications. Using the example that I was talking about above, here are some of the things that a vocational rehabilitation expert can do to help show the extent of the industrial disability.
1. The vocational rehabilitation expert can use the work restrictions to help figure out what types of jobs are simply going to be impossible for the injured worker. For example, all jobs are placed in broad categories of whether they are heavy jobs, medium jobs, light jobs, or sedentary jobs. In our example by looking at the lifting restrictions the vocational rehabilitation expert can explain that the worker is only capable of light duty or sedentary type work, and that he is no longer qualified to do medium level or heavy level work.
2. The vocational rehabilitation expert can also look at the skills that the injured worker has and further explain what types of jobs that the worker might be able to do, and what sorts of work that he is not going to be able to do. For a worker with limited education, and no computer skills or history of any type of office work, the vocational rehabilitation expert can give very specific fact based opinions about all of the types of jobs that the worker can qualify for.
3. The vocational rehabilitation expert can also give specific opinions talking about the length of time that would be required for potential retraining and the likelihood of whether the training can be successful.
4. The vocational rehabilitation expert can also explain that even though a worker might be able to perform many of the weightlifting requirements of light assembly work, the restrictions relating to limited bending, and the requirement that the worker be able to change positions would actually exclude them from that work.
5. A vocational rehabilitation expert can also talk about the studies and statistics that show that in many cases employers are not inclined to hire older workers who have work restrictions.
6. The vocational rehabilitation experts can also perform job surveys or make job placement efforts in the injured worker’s local job market to show even more concretely the difficulty the injured worker faces in obtaining a job.
7. By working through all these steps, the vocational rehabilitation expert can potentially ultimately explain that an injured worker is disqualified from 90% of the jobs that are available in the United States, and that the jobs that the worker qualifies for pay less than his prior job, and that the injured worker is still going to have a hard time being hired.
All these opinions of a vocational rehabilitation expert can be helpful for the Workers’ Compensation Deputies in determining the extent of the industrial disability, and how many weeks of benefits should be awarded to the injured worker.