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Destler Dodge

Whether a worker is injured in one state or another will differentiate the treatment they receive in rehabilitating their lives.

A lack of federal regulation in workers' compensation laws leaves room for inconsistencies and unfair representation. The diverse state legislation promotes an inhumane cyclical trend where business development and job availability favor poor benefits for the injured. The problem is that these benefits vary significantly from state-to-state and limb-to-limb. If one employee is injured in Alabama and another is injured in Pennsylvania, they will end up receiving completely different benefits packages.

Workers' compensation benefits determine the amount of money someone is entitled to after a work related injury. This is a system the federal government fails to regulate fairly. Instead, it is up to the discretion of each state to quantify and apply these benefits. With reforms occurring sporadically, if at all, it is no wonder the existing policies are inconsistent throughout the country.

There are two categories injuries fall under: impairment and disability. According to the Social Security Office of Policy, an impairment is defined as "a physiological or psychological result that can be evaluated in medical terms" and a disability is defined as "the socioeconomic loss that an individual sustains as a result of an injury, illness or condition." These frame the approaches taken in issuing benefits for permanent partial disabilities.

How much are my limbs worth?

Each state has an established maximum value assigned to the body parts that typically incur permanent impairments. Referred to as a "schedule of benefits," this is done by breaking down the human body like a slab of meat at the local deli, assigning monetary maximum values the individual may earn for each piece. ProPublica collaborated with National Public Radio (NPR) to create a nifty interactive guide to visually represent the individual state worth of each body part, from eyes and arms to feet and testicles. A leg in Nevada, for instance, could earn up to $457,418 while that same leg in Alabama could only be worth as much as $48,840 in benefits.

This is done by breaking down the human body like a slab of meat at the local deli.

The Social Security Office of Policy bulletin also discusses the various limitations to these existing policies. In most states, the workers' age, education, current occupation and job prospects are not even accounted for in the formula that determines the schedule. In other words, if both a factory line worker and a telemarketer lost a finger, they would receive the same compensation. It does not matter that one individual no longer has a career because their job was dependent on the dexterity and capability of their entire hand; both people are treated the same. That simply is not fair. 

The ProPublica article associated with the aforementioned graphic proceeds to discuss how some states still employ dated legislation that fails to account for inflation. This is part of the reason why Alabama is known for having some of the country's lowest workers' comp benefits. Yet those residents who have incurred work-related impairment and disability proceed to have trouble maintaining even a decent standard of living. It is especially concerning if the injured worker has a family as the unit has lost a source of income, sometimes the primary source. Pennsylvania allots values in the body breakdown schedule that are consistently greater than the national average. With an anticipated monthly cost of living approximately between "$2,296 and $6,765" and weekly indemnity benefits of two-thirds the employees's weekly wages, injured workers in Pennsylvania are likely to live much more comfortably compared to their counterparts in Alabama.

Spine and head injuries are actually considered unscheduled losses. Carpel tunnel also falls into this category. For these cases, states choose one of four procedures to follow: impairment-based, loss-of-earning-capacity, wage-loss or bifurcated approach. There is no ideal approach as each runs its own risks and has its own slew of drawbacks.

Just an Afterthought

Unfortunately, the states with lower compensation costs are the ones that will seem like more attractive business destinations. With such little federal regulation, a cyclical trend develops as low cost states entice a higher business with its accompanying workforce demands. People who are willing to relocate in search of job opportunities are not as concerned with the expected workers' comp benefits as they are with the actual possibility of finding a job, nor are they adequately educated on rules and regulations surrounding the topic at hand. 

It Comes Down to Luck

Local physical therapists, choosing to remain anonymous so as not to risk business, have commented on the shortcomings of the policies in place around worker injury compensation. If you are lucky, you will be provided the resources needed to pull your life together after such a life-altering accident. For others, the doctor's opinions and physical therapists suggestions will be disregarded along with any future you may have had and the benefits will just fall through.

While some hardly receive aid, others receive much more than they need. This uneven and unfair distribution of resources is how the government is presently failing its disabled population.