Being injured on the job or suffering a work-related injury can be one of the most overwhelming and frustrating experiences you will face as an employee, especially if you suffer a back injury. As a result, you are likely suffering some level of pain, discomfort, or even disability. You probably have concerns about paying your bills, returning to work, earning income, and paying your medical bills. All of these concerns are valid.
If you've never dealt with a workers' compensation claim, there's a lot you probably don't know but should. Suppose you've sustained a back injury on the job. In that case, it's imperative to understand how much your workers' comp case might be worth. Additionally, having a knowledgeable workers' comp attorney on your side can help ensure your rights are protected.
Common Types of Back Injuries in the Workplace
Work-related back injuries can arise from a variety of job-related activities, movements, and postures, potentially resulting in significant pain, discomfort, and long-term health issues. Among the most prevalent workplace back injuries are:
- Herniated Discs: Sometimes called slipped or ruptured discs, these occur when the soft center of a spinal disc protrudes through a weakened spot in the outer layer. Numbness, pain, and weakness in the back and legs can result. Healing may be prolonged and challenging, sometimes requiring surgical intervention.
- Strains and Sprains: These are the most frequently encountered workplace back injuries. Stretching or tearing of muscles causes a strain, while sprains are injuries to ligaments. Some lifting techniques, overexertion, or sudden, awkward movements often contribute to these injuries.
- Compression Fractures: These are very small breaks or cracks in the vertebrae, typically caused by repetitive lifting, bending, or twisting motions during work-related activities.
- Sciatica: Sciatica involves pain radiating down the sciatic nerve, extending from the lower back through the hips and down each leg. Conditions such as herniated discs or spinal stenosis can result in sciatic nerve compression or irritation, causing sciatica.
- Slipped Vertebrae (Spondylolisthesis): In this injury, one vertebra slips forward over the one below it. Repetitive stress or traumatic workplace injuries can contribute to the development of spondylolisthesis.
- Spinal Stenosis: This condition arises when the spaces within the spine narrow, exerting pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. It is often a result of wear and tear on the spine over time.
Causes of Workplace Back Injuries
Some prevalent causes of back injuries in the workplace include:
- Repetitive Movements: Jobs involving repetitive motions like twisting, bending, or lifting can cause cumulative trauma to the back over time. This can result in strained muscles and ligaments, leading to chronic pain and discomfort.
- Improper Lifting Techniques: Back injuries often result from incorrect lifting and carrying of heavy objects. Excessive strain on the back muscles can lead to injury.
- Manual Material Handling: Jobs often involving manual material handling, such as loading and unloading heavy items, can exert significant stress on the back, elevating the risk of injury.
- Overexertion: Engaging in physically demanding tasks or working beyond one's physical capabilities frequently leads to overexertion, resulting in strain on the back muscles.
- Vibration Exposure: Workers operating heavy machinery or tools generating whole-body vibrations may experience back problems over time.
- Workplace Falls: Slips, trips, and falls within the workplace can subject the back to sudden jolts or impacts, leading to injuries such as strains, sprains, or fractures.
- Prolonged Sitting: Desk-oriented jobs with extended sitting periods may contribute to poor posture, weakened back muscles, and an increased risk of back injuries.
What is a Workers' Comp Settlement Chart?
When settling a worker's compensation case, two essential charts are the main focus:
- Schedule Loss of Use (SLU)
- Loss of Wage Earning Capacity (LWEC)
Schedule Loss of Use (SLU)
Schedule loss of use (SLU) pertains to a permanent injury to an extremity, such as the arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet, and toes. Workers' compensation law has different values for different body parts. Each state assigns its own monetary value to each of these body parts. For example, in New York State, 100 percent SLU to the arm is 312 weeks of compensation, and 100 percent SLU to the foot is 205 weeks of compensation.
Workers comp loss of use settlements usually refer to a relevant chart that lists values (in terms of weeks of compensation) for each body part. To determine what your injury is worth, you will also need to know your average weekly income. Once you calculate what compensation you have already received, you can determine what your settlement might or should be worth.
Loss of Wage Earning Capacity (LWEC)
A different chart also addresses the loss of earning capacity (LWEC). If a worker suffers a permanent injury to a systemic area, like the spine or head, the workers' comp claim will often result in an LWEC finding. The LWEC percentage determines both the rate of pay and the duration.
LWEC takes into account:
- The worker's average weekly income
- Their degree of permanent injury
- Vocational factors such as the worker's education, age, and prior work skills/experience
Every case is different, especially from one state to the next. For example, in North Carolina, trigger finger settlements will be based on 45 weeks of compensation if there is a complete loss. Understanding these charts is imperative to negotiating a fair workers' comp settlement.
How Do You Calculate an Impairment Rating?
While some injuries are relatively minor and will heal within several weeks, others are severe, lasting years or even a lifetime. Each state uses a somewhat different impairment rating guide within its injured workers' compensation system. The impairment rating is the basis of every state's disability and workers' compensation benefits system.
An independent professional must assign a medical impairment rating at an Impairment Rating Evaluation (IRE). The rating is a percentage that corresponds to the level of impairment, which allows the worker, employer, and insurer to understand:
- The extent of the worker's injuries
- How much their impairment will affect their work abilities
A medical impairment rating helps determine how long an individual might receive benefits, how much they might receive, and if they might return to work at some point in the future.
An IRE typically occurs after receiving 104 weeks of injury benefits. The impairment must be classified as permanent, and the worker must have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) for an IRE to occur. The physician might simply tell the worker that they won't improve more, which changes the focus to managing their medical condition instead of treating it to improve it. A permanent impairment remains stable and unlikely to improve for at least a year.
If an IRE reveals that someone has a rating of less than 50 percent, they can be limited to benefits for up to 500 weeks. However, if the rating is over 50 percent, they can continue getting benefits for as long as necessary.
Workers' Comp Multiple Injury Settlements
Sometimes, employees sustain injuries to more than one body part, for example, in a traumatic work accident. In these cases, injured employees deserve more compensation than simply injuring a single body part. The average settlement amount in these cases can be tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the injured body parts. Settlements increase when the body parts injured typically settle for higher amounts on their own, such as head and neck injuries over extremity injuries.
Slip and falls and motor vehicle accidents are common causes of injuries to multiple body parts. For instance, in a slip and fall, workers frequently sustain an injury from the initial slip and then injure another body part because they tried to break their fall with their hands.
What About Injury Complications?
Workers comp laws recognize and understand that serious complications can arise from many different injuries. As such, injuries with complications are often worth more. For instance, an average workers' comp settlement for nerve damage from a broken arm will be worth more than a workers' comp settlement for a fractured arm that didn't have nerve damage.
The Purpose Workers' Compensation Benefits
Workers' compensation is a mandated state insurance program crafted to furnish medical benefits and income replacement to employees encountering injuries or illnesses during job-related tasks. Its primary aim is to shield workers from financial strain resulting from work-related injuries, ensuring they access essential medical care and receive support throughout their recovery process.
Factors Influencing Workers' Comp Benefits
Unfortunately, determining the exact amount that workers' compensation pays for a back injury is not straightforward, as various factors contribute to the compensation calculation. These factors include:
Every state has its own workers' compensation system with specific laws, regulations, and benefit schedules. The compensation amounts can vary significantly from one state to another.
The Back Injury Itself
The nature and severity of the back injury play a pivotal role in determining how much your settlement is worth. For example, more severe injuries, such as spinal fractures or herniated discs, can garner higher compensation due to their potential long-term impact on the worker's ability to work and overall quality of life.
Medical Treatment and Documentation
Seeking prompt medical attention, adhering to treatment plans, and keeping detailed records of medical expenses are crucial in supporting the workers' compensation claim. Failure to do so may result in claim denials.
Date of Injury
The date of the back injury is crucial, as workers' compensation laws may change over time. It determines which version of the laws and regulations applies to the claim.
If the injured worker has a pre-existing back condition or injury, it can complicate the claims process. While workers' compensation typically covers aggravations of pre-existing conditions, the underlying health issue may impact the extent of compensation
Temporary vs. Permanent Disability
Workers' compensation benefits are categorized into temporary and permanent disability benefits. The nature and duration of the disability significantly influence the compensation amount, with temporary disability benefits applicable when the back injury causes a temporary inability to work.
Medical professionals assess the injured worker's impairment resulting from the back injury and assign an impairment rating. This rating serves as a foundation for determining the extent of disability and, consequently, the compensation amount.
Average Weekly Wage
Compensation benefits are typically calculated as a percentage of the injured worker's average weekly income before the injury occurred. Higher income may result in more substantial compensation amounts.
Some states offer vocational rehabilitation services to aid injured workers in returning to suitable employment. The availability and extent of these services may affect a workers' compensation settlement package.
Adhering to Reporting and Filing Requirements
Timely reporting of the back injury to the employer and adherence to all reporting and filing deadlines are critical. Non-compliance may lead to delays or denials of benefits, affecting the compensation amount.
Engaging legal representation can be instrumental in securing fair compensation. Workers' compensation attorneys navigate the legal process, advocate for worker's rights, and negotiate for them, maximizing the value of the compensation claim.
Did You Recently Suffer a Workplace Back Injury? Speak With a Skilled Workers' Compensation Attorney in Your State Today
While there is no "average" workers' compensation back injury settlement, you can increase the chances of maximizing your settlement or award by hiring a seasoned workers' comp attorney to represent your claim. Studies show that worker's comp claimants with representation by an attorney typically garner more compensation than those who go about their claim alone.
Whether you are preparing to file a claim, are experiencing delays or complications with a pending claim, or you received a claim denial, never wait to consult a personal injury lawyer in Hackensack.