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Impairment Ratings Pt. 1

  • Edward Berry
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Impairment Ratings, Pt. 1

When an injured worker suffers a permanent injury to a portion of his or her body that is specifically listed in the WC law, (leg, arm, eye, etc.) the worker is entitled to compensation due to their disability.  Pinpointing the extent of this “disability” is problematic.  Our system seeks to use the “impairment rating” to express in a numerical fashion the extent that the workers’ injured body part deviates from the norm.  The workers’ award is based upon the extent of his deviation from the norm.  WC doctors normally assign “impairment ratings” by looking up the worker’s injury in a book called the AMA Guides of Evaluation of Permanent Impairment.

There are many things I could say about impairment ratings, but probably the most important thing is that judges are not bound by the doctor’s impairment rating.  Compass Bank v. Glidewell, 685 So.2d 739, 741 (Ala. Civ. App. 1996) (Doctor assigns 22% impairment rating, but court increases it to 34%).  The judge is free to assign his/her own impairment rating.  The rating assigned by the doctor is but one factor the judge may consider in determining extent of disability.  Fuller v. BAMSI, Inc, 689 So. 2d 128,131 (Ala. Civ. App. 1996).

In our fast paced world of WC, lawyers and adjusters alike throw around doctor’s “impairment ratings” as if they are the gospel and not subject to disagreement.  This is done because the WC system desperately desires to make every case the same for ease of administration and predictability.   Unfortunately, even workers with the exact same injury have vastly different results.

The law says the judge can disagree with the doctor.  Our challenge as plaintiff practitioners is to inform busy judges that they do not have to blindly accept the rating and give them a basis from which to reach their own conclusions.

If you have additional questions about impairment ratings, give us a call at 205-588-0555.  We are happy to serve you.

Servant Law is also available to you as a referral source for workers’ compensation calls that you receive or to talk with you regarding quirky workers’ comp issues you are experiencing in cases that you are currently handling.

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