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Jan 26

New Workers’ Comp Guidelines Could Impact Injured Workers in New York

Explore the nuances of the new workers’ compensation guidelines that go into effect in 2012.

January 21, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/ — Workers’ compensation laws benefit both employers and employees. Not only does workers’ comp help ensure that individuals who are injured on the job receive the compensation they deserve, it also establishes predictable liability limits for employers. Workers’ compensation benefits may help workers through a temporary time of need when they suffer from a condition that will eventually heal. However, workers’ comp also provides special monetary benefits to those employees who are permanently impaired by workplace injuries. These awards are given not for the actual injury sustained, but rather for residual permanent physical and functional impairments. Guidelines for determining permanent impairment level are an essential ingredient in the workers’ comp framework. In any given case, an injured worker’s New York workers’ compensation attorney, medical professionals, and the state Workers’ Compensation Board may all look to the guidelines to set expectations as to amount of compensation. Now, after a decade and a half under the former Medical Impairment Guidelines, New York is moving to a new set of workers’ comp impairment rules in 2012. Schedule Awards for Impairments Unchanged, but Significant Updates in Evaluating Non-schedule Conditions There are two types of awards under the New York Impairment Guidelines, schedule awards and non-schedule awards. Schedule awards are for permanent impairment of extremities, loss of vision, loss of hearing or facial disfigurement. Written “schedules” in the Impairment Guidelines establish very specific, technical rules for determining loss of use levels. Loss of use is measured as a percentage, and often the specificity contained in the guidelines makes a workers’ comp case involving a schedule injury less contentious as to award amount. Effective January 1, a new set of rules known as the 2012 New York State Guidelines for Determining Permanent Impairment and Loss of Wage Earning Capacity will go into effect. These new guidelines were developed by the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board to replace their aging 1996 counterparts. The section devoted to schedule loss of use awards is unchanged under the new guidelines. However, the non-schedule permanent disability portions of the guidelines have received significant updates based primarily on the recommendations of the Insurance Department’s Workers’ Compensation Reform Task Force and Advisory Committee. Non-schedule awards are for permanent impairments that are not specifically covered by a schedule. Conditions of the lungs, heart, skin, brain and spine are among those that commonly fall in the non-schedule category. Even though there are schedules for impairments of the extremities, some such impairments are not amenable to a schedule award, for instance, progressive and severe painful conditions of major joints; these impairments are also categorized as non-schedule awards. The revamped non-schedule sections of the guidelines establish new standards for medical professionals charged with evaluating impairment and physical function — they clarify the determination of loss of wage earning capacity by adopting a new analysis scheme. Among other improvements, a comprehensive functional assessment component to determine functional ability loss is included, covering dynamic work-related functions (like lifting, carrying and pushing), general tolerances (walking, sitting and standing) and specific tolerances (such as climbing, stooping and kneeling). The Effect of New York’s New Workers’ Comp Rules on Injured Workers Workers’ compensation law can be complicated, especially in cases involving rare or particularly severe medical conditions. It is often difficult to judge just how much compensation an injured worker needs given their physical limitations. Different doctors may have different opinions about levels of impairment, and injured workers who do not strenuously assert their rights to workers’ compensation authorities can end up without the monetary benefits they need. It is the hope that the new 2012 Guidelines will eliminate some of the ambiguity in making impairment and compensation level determinations. By clarifying the process and solidifying rating metrics, they should improve both the speed and consistency of workers’ comp classifications. They are expected to be highly utilized by lawyers, claims professionals and others involved in the workers’ comp process. If you have been injured on the job or are suffering from a work-related illness, you should get in touch with an experienced New York workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible. Legal representation can mean higher awards and a smoother, easier process for you. In addition, even though the 2012 Guidelines are eventually expected to help streamline the process, it is especially important to seek out qualified legal help in their first months of use as workers’ comp authorities familiarize themselves with the ins and outs of the new standards. Contact a workers’ comp attorney today to help ensure you receive the full amount you deserve for your injury claim.

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