Workers’ Compensation awards for permanent partial disability (“PPD”) are based on precise rates of compensation that are predetermined by law and based on the loss of use of a specific body part or the body as a whole.
For example, the loss of a hand is valued at 250 weeks of compensation, whereas the loss of an arm is worth 300 weeks. These figures are reflective of a 100% “loss of use.” The Workers’ Compensation Commission (“WCC”) has the ability to find that a particular claimant has lost less than 100% of a “scheduled member.” Thus, if the WCC were to find a 50% loss of a foot, a claimant would be entitled to 125 weeks of compensation, rather than 250 weeks.
The breakdown of compensation due for specific PPD awards is set forth in L&E § 9-627. Therein, subsections (a) through (j) outline the compensation rates for various “scheduled member” losses. For non-scheduled members, L&E § 9-627(k) applies. Also regarded as “other cases” injuries, subsection (k) states:
In all cases of permanent partial disability not listed in subsections (a) through (j) of this section, the Commission shall determine the percentage by which the industrial use of the covered employee’s body was impaired as a result of the accidental personal injury or occupational disease.
Scheduled members include arms, legs, hands, feet, eyes, ears and fingers. Non-scheduled members, or “other cases” injuries, include the neck, chest, back and shoulders. For non-scheduled injuries, subsection (k) provides the appropriate scale of 500 weeks. When subsection (k) is in play, the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner considers the evidence in a case and determines to what percent a particular injury affects the use of the Claimant’s body as a whole. Factors taken into consideration are the particular type of employment, the employee’s physical condition and age, the employee’s experience and/or training, and the employee’s pre- and post-injury wage level.
In many cases, an employee will have incurred injuries to multiple body parts as a result of an accidental personal injury. In such a scenario, the WCC may rely on L&E § 9-627(k) to consider the combined effect of each injury on the industrial use of the body as a whole. This is true regardless of whether the injuries are scheduled, non-scheduled, or both.
Put in context, if a Claimant suffers injuries to the back and shoulder (two non-scheduled members), compensation would obviously be awarded as an “other cases” injury. But even if the injuries involve one scheduled and one non-scheduled member (e.g. neck and foot), or two scheduled members (e.g. arm and leg), compensation for the various injuries may still be combined under L&E § 9-627(k) and rated for their effect on the body in the aggregate.
That said, it is also important to note that cases involving multiple injuries are not required to be consolidated as an “other cases” injury. Therefore, where an employee incurs one scheduled and one non-scheduled injury, or two scheduled injuries, it is permissible to calculate the individual value of each injury and award compensation accordingly. Even if each injury is valued separately, the individual awards may thereafter be combined for purposes of obtaining PPD at an increased “tier” of compensation.