Worker's Compensation Case Values
Each person that comes into my office wants to know what their case is worth. The difficulty with placing a value on a particular case is that they are all so unique to the individual. Some injuries are easy. For instance, the loss of sight in both eyes, or the loss of both feet, both hands, or one hand and one foot, automatically means that the Claimant is deemed "Totally and Permanently Disabled" and is put on monthly income benefits for the remainder of their life. As of the writing of this page, 2023, the benefits are 67% of Idaho's average state weekly wage of $967. So, as one can see, it is fairly simple to figure out the benefits in a total and permanent disability case.
The more difficult case to predict a value in is what is commonly called the "Disability in Excess of Impairment" case. To arrive at a value of permanent disability, the Industrial Commission reviews the employee's present and probable future ability to engage in gainful activity as a result of the injury and other nonmedical factors, including age and disfigurement. Primarily, what the Industrial Commission is looking for here is how the injury is affecting the worker's ability to be employed.
In order to come to a permanent disability determination, a vocational expert often reviews the case and considers two main factors. The first is what restrictions a physician has determined the worker needs to be permanently subject to. For instance, a person with an injured shoulder may be told that they should not lift any more than five pounds to their waist and nothing above their shoulder. This would eliminate many jobs that the worker could have had but for the injury. The vocational expert then reduces that to a percentage by comparing the number of jobs the person could do prior to the accident and the number of jobs the worker can do now after these restrictions have been imposed by a physician.
The second consideration, or factor, that a vocational evaluation expert evaluates is the percentage that the worker's income has decreased as a result of the restrictions the doctor has imposed. For instance, prior to the accident, the worker may have made $20 an hour in a labor-intensive job. Thereafter, due to restrictions that the physician has imposed, the worker must work in a sedentary job where he or she is not required to lift. However, consider that the less labor-intensive job probably only pays $10 an hour. In this example, the percentage of loss considered by the vocational evaluation expert is 50%.
The analysis performed by a vocational evaluation usually ends with an averaging of the loss of income percentage with the loss of jobs percentage. So, if a person had a 50% wage loss and a 60% job loss, then the two figures would be averaged together, and the total permanent disability loss would be 55%. This used to be where the analysis ended.
Recently, the Industrial Commission considered a case where a person suffered a 0% wage loss and a 76% job loss. The Industrial Commission was concerned because this was a very large loss of access to jobs but no loss of wages which meant that the Claimant would receive a lower award, i.e. 38%. This is very unfair to a low wage earner because it always skews the amount they can get as compared to someone who makes $25-$30 an hour. The Industrial Commission in the Linda Mayer v. Sterling Jewelers IC 2015-015759 (2022), recognized this unfairness and provided guidance stating that where a person makes at or near minimum wage but has a large to very large loss of labor market access, greater consideration should be given to weighting the labor market access factor so that they get more money. In the Linda Mayer case, the Claimant perceived herself to have a disability, she walked with a cane, she had little education, and she was 64 years of age. The Industrial Commission noted that all of these factors argued in favor of weighting the labor market access prong higher or more so that the Claimant would receive more money.
This is a positive outcome for low wage earners. However, it also makes it even that much more complicated to determine the value of a case at its commencement.
If you have a worker's compensation claim that you would like to discuss, don't hesitate to give us a call at Racine Olson, PLLP.