Q: The Basics of a Disability Award


In Maryland, injured employees are entitled to workers’ compensation disability benefits for “temporary” or “permanent” disabilities that are either “partial” or “total” in nature (4 variations in total). Benefits are tax-free and are generally paid on a weekly  or bi-weekly basis. It is not unusual for an individual to first collect temporary benefits, but then later qualify for a permanent award. Ironically, “temporary” disability benefits may continue indefinitely, whereas “permanent” disability benefits are for a finite period.

An employee is “totally” disabled when he or she is completely unable to work. Temporary total disability pertains to the actual job in which the injury occurs, rather than any other possible form of employment. In contrast, permanent total disability pertains to any work “for which a reasonable market exists,” and is not limited to the type of work an employee had pre-disability.

Alternatively, an employee may also be entitled to compensation in the event of a “partial” disability. For example, if an employee is only able to work part time as a result of a compensable injury or disease, or is able to work but for decreased pay, he or she may be found to be “partially” disabled.

Temporary Disability Benefits

What is Maximum Medical Improvement?

One major concept in worker’s comp law is the term “maximum medical improvement” or “MMI.” When a person is still recovering from his or her work-related injury, MMI has not been reached and the disability will be deemed “temporary.” However, when MMI is attained, any temporary disability terminates.

MMI status may be attained even if an individual requires continued medical treatment. For example, consider a person who suffers a severe back injury while on the job, requiring surgery. The surgery, in addition to the subsequent period of necessary physical therapy, would be considered a time in which the employee was still “recovering.” Thus, any comp award would be labeled as “temporary,” because MMI had not yet been reached. Eventually, however, the back injury will be considered to have improved as much as possible, and MMI will have been reached. There may still be lingering issues that require further medical care, such as pain, lack of mobility, etc., but when the focus of such treatment is considered to be mere maintenance, an individual will be deemed to have reached MMI. Aside from reaching MMI, temporary disability also terminates when an individual returns to work at a pre-injury wage level. Read more here.

Permanent Disability Benefits

Temporary disability terminates when an injured employee reaches MMI, though a permanent award may at that time be appropriate. Typically, an employee will be given a “permanency rating” by both the insurance company’s doctor and the doctor brought in by the attorney representing the injured worker. The rating given by the insurance company’s doctor is always the lesser of the two ratings. Sometimes, the two sides will agree on a settlement, or alternatively, the final permanency rating is made by a judge or commissioner.

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