by Bernard D. Nomberg, Partner, The Nomberg Law Firm
Alabama’s workers’ compensation laws are different from those in any other state. The types of benefits an injured worker may be eligible for will depend on the success of the claim and the nature of the injury they have suffered. Under Alabama law, most benefits qualify as indemnification (compensatory) benefits, medical benefits, or death benefits.
There are basically two times during the claim that the injured worker potentially could be paid. The first time typically is after they have been injured on the job and the authorized treating physician takes the employee off work due to those injuries. The amount the worker is compensated during this time period is calculated at two-thirds of their average weekly earnings for the year prior to the injury. These weekly checks typically will continue to be paid until the authorized treating physician has released the injured worker back to work in some capacity. In other words, once the injured worker reaches maximum medical improvement and the doctor releases the injured worker back to work, those checks will then stop being paid.
In theory, now the worker is back at work and making hopefully their same or better salary from prior to being injured. However, the reality is that often the injured worker cannot go back to their former job but their workers’ compensation checks have stopped. This leaves them in a time of having no compensation unless they have found employment elsewhere in the interim.
Hopefully there is not a long gap of time from then until the other time an injured worker is usually compensated at the end of their claim. That is when it is time either to settle the claim, which is most often the case, or when their case is tried in court and a judge rules.
The sad reality about the workers’ compensation laws in Alabama is that an injured worker cannot be made financially whole. What this means is the laws do not allow the injured worker to be compensated for emotional distress, mental anguish, pain and suffering, punitive damages, or lost wages. Alternatively, the injured worker is typically compensated based on two main factors: the permanent physical impairment (PPI) rating assigned by the authorized treating physician and, if they have a body as a whole injury, e.g., back or neck injuries, a vocational disability can be considered.
The PPI rating that is assigned by the authorized treating physician is both an objective and subjective measure of the injured worker’s permanent impairment and degree of disability. The books in this photo are editions of the Directory of Occupational Impairment which are typically used by doctors to assign the PPI rating.
Vocational disability is usually determined after the injured worker can no longer go back to their former job or make the same kind of money they were making before the accident that led to the injuries. Usually a vocational expert will be hired to interview the injured worker and then create opinions as to the vocational disability. This disability is determined by the loss of access of jobs and the loss of the ability to earn.
Most of the time the above mentioned topics are confusing to injured workers. This can be a very stressful and confusing time in the injured worker’s life. This is the kind of work that we do at the Nomberg Law Firm. If you find yourself in such a situation and need experienced legal assistance or representation, please consider contacting us at 205-930-6900 or Nomberglaw.com.