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“I injured my back in the early part of 2011 while at work. After trying to deal with workman’s comp by myself, I finally decided it was too much of a hassle so I decided to look for an attorney. I went to Poisson, Poisson & Bower, PLLC and spoke to Mr. Fred Poisson who immediately understood everything I was going through. I decided to give him a try and my life got a little easier to deal with. No more complicated paperwork or phone calls from workman’s comp, it all went through the attorney’s office. They made sure that everything was handled for me. They handled my case very well and were very consistent on keeping me updated. Thank you Poisson, Poisson & Bower, PLLC for helping me get my life back in order.”
─ J.W., Wadesboro, N.C.
Were you injured on the job in North Carolina? Has a permanent impairment due to an occupational injury kept you from returning to work? If so, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation disability benefits, which offset your lost wages when you are too hurt to continue working at full capacity.
The law firm of Poisson, Poisson & Bower, PLLC, can explain how the impairment ratings and disability benefits in North Carolina could impact your workers’ comp claim and help you pursue the full benefits you deserve. Contact us now for a free case review.
What Is an Impairment Rating in North Carolina?
Assigning a number value to something as life-changing as a disabling impairment is challenging. Still, these values are essential to compensating workers fairly when workplace injuries permanently impair them.
Workers’ comp payouts for long-term and permanent impairments are calculated based on the severity of the impairment, which is where a numerical impairment rating comes in.
When someone gets hurt on the job in North Carolina, they might claim that their injury is debilitating, while the employer insists the injury seems much less severe. An impairment rating from an unbiased medical professional gives employees and employers a reference point for the severity of the impairment.
An employee’s impairment rating is expressed as a percentage between 0 (fully functional) and 100 (completely impaired), reflecting the employee’s functional impairment level.
How Impairment Ratings Are Determined
Independent medical professionals conduct Impairment Rating Evaluations (IREs) to evaluate patients and assign impairment ratings. An employer or the Industrial Commission may order these IREs once the injured worker has reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) and is still drawing workers’ compensation benefits. A patient reaches MMI when a doctor no longer expects their condition to improve with additional treatment.
Once an impaired worker reaches MMI and has an IRE, the physician conducting the examination will assign the person a numerical impairment rating based on the percentage of impairment to the affected body part. Then, the North Carolina Industrial Commission (NCIC) multiplies the impairment rating by a predetermined value the law assigns to impaired body parts. The result is the value awarded to the impaired employee for their loss.
Examples of Impairment Ratings in an NC Workers’ Comp Case
Here are some examples of the standard impairment ratings that the North Carolina Industrial Commission (NCIC) assigns to common worker injuries:
Injuries to Lower Extremities
- Shortening of leg by 1 to 3 inches – 8% to 40% of leg
- Immobility of hip in optimal position – 50% of leg
- Arthroplasty of the hip – 40% of leg
- Limited range of motion in hip – 15% to 45%
- Limited range of motion in knee – 5% to 45%
- Immobility of foot in optimal position – 25% of foot
- Immobility of foot in suboptimal position – up to 90%
- Limited range of motion in ankle – 10% to 50%
- Limited range of motion in foot – 10% to 40%
- Fixed varus (inverted) position of foot – up to 90%
- Triple arthrodesis of foot (hindfoot fusion) – 30% of foot
Injuries to Upper Extremities
- Immobility of distal (fingertip) joint in finger – 35% of finger
- Immobility of proximal (middle) joint in finger – 50% of finger
- Immobility of metacarpal (knuckle) joint – 45% of finger
- Immobility of finger joint in suboptimal position – 100% of finger
- Complete loss of sensation in finger – up to 100%
- Immobility of wrist in optimal position – 35% of hand
- Immobility of wrist in suboptimal position – up to 100%
- Limited range of motion in wrist – 10% to 25%
- Immobility of elbow in optimal position – 50% of arm
- Immobility of elbow in suboptimal position – up to 90%
- Limited range of motion in elbow – 5% to 35%
- Immobility of shoulder in optimal position – 50% of arm
- Immobility of shoulder in suboptimal position – up to 80%
- Complete loss of sensation in hand or arm – up to 90%
- Cervical spine fracture, single, healed – 10% of body
- Cervical spine fracture, each additional – 5% of body
- Cervical fracture resulting in quadriplegia – 100% of body
- Other spine fractures resulting in paralysis – up to 50%
How Ratings Are Used in Workers’ Compensation Cases in NC
Once you have been given an impairment rating, that number is then multiplied by your compensation rate (two-thirds of your average weekly wage before your injury, up to a capped maximum) and the number of weeks provided in the schedule laid out below:
- Thumb – 75 weeks
- Arm – 240 weeks
- First or index finger – 45 weeks
- Foot – 144 weeks
- Second or middle finger – 40 weeks
- Leg – 200 weeks
- Third or ring finger – 25 weeks
- Eye – 120 weeks
- Fourth or little finger – 20 weeks
- Hearing (one ear) – 70 weeks
- Great toe – 35 weeks
- Hearing (both ears) – 150 weeks
- Any other toe – 10 weeks
- Back – 300 weeks
For example, suppose you made $900 per week before losing your arm entirely in a machining accident. An arm is scheduled for 240 weeks, you lost 100 percent of its use, and your compensation rate is $600 (two-thirds of $900), for a final figure of $144,000.
Now, suppose you did not lose your arm but were instead given an impairment rating of 50 percent. In this case, you would be entitled to 120 weeks (50 percent of 240) of disability benefits at $600 per week for a final figure of $72,000.
In most cases, you can take these benefits in weekly payments or as a lump sum.
How Our Lawyers Help Claimants with Impairment Ratings
Impairment ratings determine how much an employer owes their injured employee in disability benefits. That necessarily causes friction, as employers and insurers may demand independent evaluations or introduce various objections to decrease an employee’s impairment rating and, therefore, the amount they owe that person.
If a provider refuses to evaluate your claim fairly or you must appeal a workers’ comp disability rating determination, seek help from a knowledgeable lawyer immediately. The attorneys of Poisson, Poisson & Bower, PLLC, are prepared to answer all your questions and review your case for free when you contact us for an initial consultation.