A worker’s comp claim can be tricky. Several factors are considered when determining compensation. One is deciding whether an injury is an impairment or a disability.

Disability vs Impairment

Impairments and disabilities are similar, but they are not the same. Your diagnosis can make a big difference in your claim amount. This article will discuss disability vs impairment so you can see how compensation Is decided.

What is an Impairment?

Impairment occurs when a person’s physical or psychological health or a structure or function of their body becomes changed or damaged. These injuries may cause mental or physical damage which can be permanent. However, they don’t always affect a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks.

Impairments can be permanent injuries, declines in health, or a rare disease that requires objective judgment. They can be temporary or permanent. They can be broken down into two categories as follows:

  • Structural impairments: These impairments include issues with an internal or external part of the body. They can result in conditions like multiple sclerosis, amputation, and vision or memory loss.
  • Functional Impairment: This type of impairment refers to the complete or partial loss of a body part. It may result in a pain that does not go away. It may limit movement on a temporary or permanent basis,

What is a Disability?

A disability will affect a person’s ability to do their job. It typically stems from an impairment, but impairments don’t always result in disabilities. Like impairments, disabilities can also be temporary or permanent.

An injury must fulfill three requirements to be considered a disability as follows:

  1. It must result in an impairment of a person’s mental or physical function.
  2. It must limit a person’s activity.
  3. It must cause participation restrictions such as the ability to work, socialize, participate in recreational activities, and obtain healthcare and preventative services.

Why Disability vs Impairment is Important in Worker’s Comp

Disability vs Impairment

Disability vs impairment is important in worker’s comp because it affects payout amounts. It also determines how long a worker can receive benefits.

One of the most crucial considerations in a worker’s comp case is how much the worker stands to lose in wages. A person with an impairment may be able to return to work and perform all the duties of their previous position.  Their lost wage benefits will cover the time they need to recover and any reductions in salary due to an inability to perform the duties of their current position if applicable.

A person with a disability will either be unable to return to work or may be unable to fulfill the duties of their previous condition. Like an impairment, their benefits will cover discrepancies in pay and recovery time. They may be ongoing if the disability is permanent.

The main disability vs impairment difference is that a disability considers a person’s inability to work and the extent to which their work duties are restricted. An impairment does not.

Unfortunately, the disability vs impairment comparison is not always considered in worker’s comp cases. Often, administrators will look at the patient’s diagnosis and will not bother to ask how it affects their ability to work.

A good Judge of Compensation will realize this distinction between disability vs impairment and award cases fairly. However, every injury is handled on a case-by-case basis. Judges don’t always get it right.

Disability vs Impairment Ratings

Several calculations are considered when determining the amount of a worker’s comp payout. They include disability and impairment ratings. This section will explore disability vs impairment ratings.

What is an Impairment Rating?

An impairment rating is calculated as a percentage. It refers to the worker’s whole-body disability caused by an injury or illness. The greater the percentage, the larger the payout will be. However, it does not account for job duties.

If a person has a total permanent disability, they will receive a 100% impairment rating and receive maximum compensation.

Impairment also accounts for Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI). A doctor will determine if a patient has reached MMI when they feel their condition will not significantly improve. MMI must be reached before an impairment rating is assigned.

Different states use different methods to calculate impairment ratings. Some states use whole body impairment ratings which refer to the percentage of overall body impairment. Others use body-part-specific ratings.

What is a Disability Rating?

Disability vs Impairment

A disability rating refers to a person’s ability to return to work and perform the tasks of their position. It is assigned before a person reaches MMI. It determines the extent of the worker’s injuries.

Workers with disability ratings below 50% will typically receive workers comp for five years or less.  A disability rating above 50% can yield five to seven years of worker’s comp. If your disability rating is zero, you may not receive workers comp at all.

If you have a disability rating of 100%, you will qualify for permanent total disability and receive an impairment rating.

Disability vs Impairment Conclusion

The terms disability vs impairment are often confused. But they can make a big difference in the compensation you receive.

In terms of workers comp, disabilities generally refer to temporary injuries that affect your ability to work, while impairments are permanent injuries that affect general well-being. However, other distinctions can be made on a medical level.

Now that you know the difference, you can better understand how worker’s compensation is determined. Good luck getting the payout you deserve.