Alabama’s workers’ compensation laws are different from those in any other state. The types of benefits an injured worker may be eligible for—and when the worker will receive those benefits— will depend on the success of the claim and the nature of the injury they’ve suffered. Under Alabama law, most benefits qualify as indemnification (compensatory) benefits, medical benefits, or death benefits.
How long does it take to get workers’ comp benefits after an injury?
There are basically 2 times during the claim that the injured worker could potentially be paid.
The first time typically is after they’ve been injured on the job, and the authorized treating physician takes the employee off work due to those injuries.
The amount the worker is compensated during this time period is calculated at two-thirds of their average weekly earnings for the year prior to the injury. These weekly checks typically will continue to be paid until the authorized treating physician has released the injured worker back to work in some capacity. In other words, once the injured worker reaches maximum medical improvement and the doctor releases the injured worker back to work, those checks will then stop being paid.
In theory, now the worker is back at work and hopefully making the same or better salary from prior to being injured. However, the reality is that often, the injured worker cannot go back to their former job, but their workers’ compensation checks have stopped. This leaves them with no compensation unless they’ve found employment elsewhere in the interim.
Hopefully, there’s not a long gap of time from that time until the other time an injured worker is usually compensated at the end of their claim—when it’s time either to settle the claim, which is most often the case, or when their case is tried in court and a judge rules.
What benefits are not included in workers’ comp cases?
The sad reality about the workers’ compensation laws in Alabama is that an injured worker cannot be made financially whole. What this means is the laws do not allow the injured worker to be compensated for any of the following:
- Emotional distress
- Mental anguish
- Pain and suffering
- Punitive damages
- Lost wages
It’s not always easy to tell what benefits are and are not included in a workers’ compensation case, so talking to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney is the best way to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.
What factors determine the amount of compensation in a workers’ comp claim?
The injured worker is typically compensated based on 2 main factors: the permanent physical impairment (PPI) rating assigned by the authorized treating physician and, if they have a body as a whole injury (e.g., back or neck injuries), a vocational disability can be considered.
The PPI rating that is assigned by the authorized treating physician is both an objective and subjective measure of the injured worker’s permanent impairment and degree of disability.
What is vocational disability?
Vocational disability is usually determined after the injured worker can no longer go back to their former job or make the same kind of money they were making before the accident that led to the injuries. Usually, a vocational expert will be hired to interview the injured worker and then create opinions as to the vocational disability. This disability is determined by the loss of access to jobs and the loss of the ability to earn.
What is maximum medical improvement (MMI)?
It’s important to note that an injured worker won’t receive a PPI rating until they have reached maximum medical improvement.
Maximum medical improvement (MMI) is a term used in workers’ compensation claims. Simply put, it means that you’ve reached the point where your condition can’t be improved any further. You might be as healed as you’re going to get, or you might have reached the limits of treatments and therapies that can help.
MMI doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re fully recovered or that you’re finished receiving medicine or therapy. In fact, it’s often used to describe a state where a claimant still has ongoing medical issues. MMI just means that your condition isn’t going to change in any significant way in the future, which is an assessment that can help with determining things like your PPI rating.
Injuries that are considered permanent after a worker reaches MMI
If you’re still struggling with a medical condition after reaching MMI, you’ll probably be classified as having a “permanent injury.” A permanent injury is one that will allow for long-term disability benefits.
Here are just a few examples of injuries that may be considered permanent:
How is permanent disability determined in Alabama workers’ comp cases?
There are 4 categories of “disability” when looking at workers’ compensation benefits:
- Temporary partial disability
- Temporary total disability
- Permanent partial disability
- Permanent total disability
Permanent partial disability (PPD) refers to a situation in which the worker suffers a permanent injury but is still able to work in some capacity (such as a worker who lost a finger).
Permanent total disability (PTD) refers to a situation in which the worker is completely unable to obtain gainful employment.
Why should workers wait until they reach MMI before accepting a workers’ comp settlement?
Most workers’ compensation attorneys will urge you to reach MMI before accepting any settlement offers. This is because you never know when your condition will take a turn for the worse or when a new treatment or medication will hit the market that can help you.
Additionally, most settlements will include an agreement that you forfeit any right to seek more damages in the future. This could include benefits like permanent disability payments. Even if your injury turns out to be a long-term one, you might not be allowed to pursue the appropriate compensation for it if you’ve jumped too eagerly on a settlement offer rather than waiting for your condition to stabilize.
Pros and cons of a lump sum settlement
If you’ve reached MMI with a permanent injury, you might be offered a lump sum settlement or “structured settlement” as opposed to ongoing disability payments. There are both advantages and disadvantages to accepting a settlement offer like this.
The biggest advantage is speed. You’ll receive a payout much faster than if you have to continue to negotiate, possibly go to trial, and wait for your weekly benefits checks. You’ll also be awarded a much larger sum initially in most cases.
On the other hand, a lump sum payment might work out to be less money overall. You’ll need to calculate whether your monthly disability payments will eventually add up to the same figure as your lump sum.
Finally, consider the state of your injury. If you think there’s a chance that you haven’t reached MMI, a settlement might not be the best option for you.
Contact an Alabama workers’ compensation attorney
Most of the time, the above-mentioned topics are confusing to injured workers, which is why it’s crucial to get advice from a skilled workers’ compensation attorney before accepting any settlement offer that may not be in your best interest. This is the kind of work we do at Nomberg Law Firm.
If you find yourself in such a situation and need experienced legal assistance or representation, contact Nomberg Law Firm today. Our attorneys have extensive experience fighting for injured Alabama workers to get them the money they deserve. Let us handle the negotiations with your employer and their insurer so you can focus on healing.
Contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation.