How Does A Permanent Injury Affect Virginia Workers’ Compensation

After a serious workers’ compensation injury, you may be treating with a doctor or other health care providers for quite a while until your injury is stabilized.  You may be sent for CT scans, MRIs, or other testing to determine the extent of your injury.  You may also be asked to attend physical therapy to help you recover and get back to your pre-injury level of physical activity.  But, what happens if your injury is permanent and how does a permanent injury affect your Virginia workers’ compensation claim?

Mike Ritchie discusses permanent injuries in Virginia workers’ compensation in this video:

YouTube video

Permanent Partial Disability and Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI)

After you have treated with your medical providers for a while, they may determine that you have reached what’s called “maximum medical improvement.”  Basically, this means that your injury has probably gotten as good as it’s going to get and you have recovered as much as you can.  This does not mean that the doctor won’t continue to treat your injuries.  Many doctors will continue to offer treatment to help reduce the injured person’s pain, long after the victim has reached maximum medical improvement with a permanent injury.

Even after you reach maximum medical improvement, you may still have some lingering medical issues related to your injury.  For instance, if you injured your hand, you might still have difficulty moving it in all directions.  If your doctor says some of your injury might be permanent, you may be entitled to receive additional compensation from the workers’ compensation insurance carrier for the permanency. This is often called permanent partial disability.

woman in wheelchair with permanent workers' compensation injury

Permanent Injury and Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE)

If your doctor thinks you have reached maximum medical improvement, but you still have injury-related problems, he or she may send you for a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) to help determine whether you can still perform the same types of duties you performed before the accident.  The FCE is a group of physical tests usually given by a physical therapist.  This testing will help your doctor to be able to determine what percentage of your function of a certain body part you have lost.

These tests usually analyze your ability in the following areas:

  • range of motion,
  • physical strength,
  • lifting ability to flexibility,
  • stamina,
  • and your ability to carry objects.

When your doctor orders an FCE, it frequently means you are getting close to maximum medical improvement, and you may be ready to return to some form of work.  Not only do the FCE tests help determine whether and what kinds of work activities you are capable of doing, but they also are designed to show if you are not giving your best effort on the test.  So, there’s no real way to fake or “beat” the FCE testing process.  We tell our clients to just do their best on the FCE and be willing to tell the physical therapist how you are feeling during the test.

After you have completed the FCE testing, the therapist in conjunction with your doctor, will usually give you a rating, which specifies what percentage of loss you have as a result of your injury.  Then, based on the percentage of loss you have as a result of your injury, you may be entitled to a certain number of weeks of temporary total disability benefits for your workers compensation claim.

man in wheelchair with permanent hand injuries

Permanent Partial Disability Benefits

Va. Code § 65.2-503 (Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act) provides for the following amounts of workers’ compensation benefits for each of these body parts:

  • Thumb — 60 weeks
  • First finger — 35 weeks
  • Second finger — 30 weeks
  • Third finger — 20 weeks
  • Fourth finger — 15 weeks
  • First phalanx — ½ compensation for loss of entire thumb or finger
  • Great toe — 30 weeks
  • Toe (other than great toe) — 10 weeks
  • First phalanx of toe — ½ compensation for loss of entire toe
  • Hand — 150 weeks
  • Arm — 200 weeks
  • Foot — 125 weeks
  • Leg — 175 weeks
  • Total vision loss in eye — 100 weeks
  • Total loss of hearing in ear — 50 weeks
  • Severe disfigurement — not to exceed 60 weeks
  • Pneumonconiosis — 50/100/300 weeks
  • Byssinosis — 50 weeks

So, for example, if you are determined to have lost 50% of the use of your hand, you may be entitled to receive 150 weeks x 50% loss of use = 75 weeks of additional workers’ compensation benefits or permanent disability payments for your permanent injury. This means that you would receive an addition 75 weeks of your average weekly wage.

Once the FCE is finished, your doctor will go over the results and report and discuss your impairment rating with you.  When you meet with your doctor to talk about the FCE, it is important for you to discuss how you felt during the testing as well as immediately after and the days after the testing was complete.  Your doctor needs to know how your body reacted after the FCE was over. Your permanent impairment rating is then plugged into the formulas for permanent loss described above.

Permanent Total Disability Benefits

Because some injuries are so severe that injured workers may be unable to perform any type of gainful employment, Virginia allows for permanent total disability benefits in some of those cases. The process for obtaining permanent total disability benefits is to apply for permanent and total disability within 2 years before the injured workers 500 weeks of compensation expires. Knowing when to file the permanent disability claim is a balancing act. The permanent total disability claim must be filed before the filing deadline, but it can’t be filed too early or the injured worker will run the risk of the claim being deemed premature in light of reasonable future medical advances.

While many injured workers may never be able to return to work, few will be determined to be eligible for permanent total disability by the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission. This is because to get permanent total disability benefits, the injured worker has to have a total loss of both hands, both arms, both feet, both legs, both eyes, or any two thereof in the same accident. The other way to receive benefits for a permanent total disability in your workers compensation claim is if your injury results in total paralysis or if you have a brain injury that is so severe that you are unable to work in gainful employment.

Permanent Injuries and Virginia Workers’ Compensation

Permanent injuries and ratings are a very complex part of an already confusing workers’ compensation system. A permanent injury may affect the amount of any possible workers’ compensation settlement. If you or your doctors believe you may have a permanent injury, you will want to get some guidance from an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer.

It takes an experienced workers compensation attorney who handles workers’ comp on a daily basis to know all the in’s and out’s to be able to get you everything you might be entitled to for your workplace accident.  A lawyer who handles a general practice or who only dabbles in workers’ compensation benefits is likely not going to have sufficient experience which comes from handling a large number of work injury cases on a daily basis. For example, it is unlikely that a general practice lawyer will know that you can’t get pain and suffering in Virginia workers’ comp.

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Your Virginia Workers’ Compensation Attorneys Team

If you’ve been involved in a workplace accident, our workers’ comp team at the Ritchie Law Firm is happy to sit down with you and talk with you to see if your workers’ compensation benefits claim needs to have an attorney involved.  It doesn’t cost anything to talk with us about your permanent disability claim. We have a wealth of information and resources available to us, and we’re always happy to share.  Give us a call today at 800-277-6124 for your NO STRINGS ATTACHED conversation with our workers’ compensation lawyers.

We handle Virginia Workers’ Compensation cases out of our offices in Harrisonburg, Winchester, Charlottesville, and Staunton, Va.  Or, if you just want to test the waters first, get some more information by filling out the form below.  We look forward to working with you.

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