There are dozens of factors that will determine how much a back injury is worth. Generally, if you have a permanent work-related back injury you will be paid a percentage of 500 weeks of benefits unless you are considered permanently and totally disabled which is a lifetime of benefits.
Some of the important factors in assessing what is known as your industrial disability include the following:
-Did you sustain a permanent injury? If yes, what is your functional impairment rating? (Note: there if you do not know the difference between a functional impairment rating and industrial disability you should read on and also request a copy of our Iowa workers' compensation book that we offer at no cost or risk)
-Did you require surgery and if so, what type (fusion, laminectomy, diskectomy) and how many?
-How long were you off work following your work injury?
-Do you now have permanent work restrictions?
-Do you now have to use an assistive device like a cane or brace?
-What are your current symptoms and how do they affect your ability to earn a living?
-What, if any, ongoing or additional medical care is expected in the future?
-Have you returned to your regular job making the same amount or more money?
-Have you been terminated because your employer does not have work available within your restrictions?
-If you were terminated, have you done a full and complete job search such that you will be considered a motivated worker or not?
-If you were terminated, have you found another job and if so how much does it pay, what are your job requirements, etc.
-How far did you go in school?
-Do you have learning disabilities or other problems with learning?
-Do you speak and read English?
-What, if any, other health conditions do you have that affect your employability?
When considering settlement of your case, we look at the above factors along with other items to provide an estimate of the percentage of industrial disability that we think a workers' compensation judge will do with the case later on. If the case does not settle, then eventually a workers' compensation judge will look at these factors in determining what he/she thinks your industrial disability is caused by the work injury at issue.
Let's say, for example, it is determined that you have sustained a 30% industrial disability. This means that you are owed 150 weeks of PPD (permanent partial disability) because 30% * 500 weeks = 150 weeks. Keep in mind that these benefits are paid weekly unless you agree to give up your medical and close your file which is rarely a good idea to try to do on your own for a number of reasons including the social security offset alone could costs you thousands of dollars, Medicare, etc. These PPD benefits are paid in addition to the TTD (temporary total disability) benefits that you probably received while you were off work healing from your injuries.
Once we know how many weeks you are owed for your permanent disability, then we will need to make sure that the weekly amount they are paying you, called your weekly rate is accurate.
When looking at your rate we look at:
-What was your average weekly wage in the 13 weeks prior to the work injury? This includes your total number of hours worked each week times your regular hourly wages, plus regular bonuses, tips, etc.
-Are you married or single?
-How many dependents do you claim on your tax returns besides yourself?
-Are you age 65 or older and get to claim an additional dependent?
Your weekly rate is very important because if you are owed 150 weeks of benefits and your weekly rate is $200 compared to $1,000 the value of your case could be very different. If you are owed 150 weeks at $200 the total is $30,000 whereas if you are owed 150 weeks at $1,000 the total is $150,000 or five times as much.
Note: Approximately 80-90% of cases like the ones described in this article will end up settling before trial for a lump-sum sometimes with the medical and case open or other times with the medical and case closed.
Below are 3 examples of what cases may be worth under these very specific facts. Keep in mind that every case is different and there are 12 different judges all of which may evaluate your case very differently. Further, there is an appeals process where the Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner can change, modify or eliminate the decision of the judge who hears the evidence. If you would like to discuss the facts in your specific case (if you are not already represented by an attorney) and how much your workers' comp back injury may be worth just give us a call at (641) 792-3595 for a no-cost, no-risk work injury evaluation.
A 61-year-old factory worker with a high school education worked for the same company for 30 years. While lifting at work he sustains a serious back injury causing discs in his back and L4-L5 at L5-S1 to herniated putting pressure on his spinal cord. Because of this, he requires an immediate fusion surgery with the placement or hardware (screws and rods to stabilize the area). He completes 6 months of physical therapy and his doctor recommends an FCE (functional capacity evaluation) in order to determine his permanent work restrictions. His test is found to be valid placing him in the light work category with permanent work restriction of no lifting of more than 20 pounds. He is given a 20% functional impairment rating by his doctor. He contacts his employer with his restrictions and is told that they do not have work for him within his restrictions and he is terminated. Presuming that he attempts to find other work within his restrictions and is found to be a motivated worker, the case is probably worth a range between 50% and permanent total disability. If his workers' compensation rate is $750 per week then this would mean either a weekly check for 250 weeks * $750 per week or a weekly check of $750 per week for the rest of his life.
A 34-year-old truck driver with a GED falls on the ice at work resulting in a low back strain. An MRI shows that he has a herniated disc, but he does not require surgery. He has many months of physical therapy, 2 epidural injections and missed a total of 10 months of work after his work injury-related fall. He is released to return to work with a 50-pound weight restriction and because his job requires him to be able to lift up to 100 pounds they terminate his employment. He is given a 5% functional impairment rating. He looks for other work and finds a "no-touch" freight truck driving job that he is able to do, but it pays about 20% less than his prior job. The case is probably worth a range between 20% and 40% disability. If his workers' compensation rate is $800 per week then this would mean either a weekly check for 100 to 200 weeks * $800 per week with open medical benefits.
A 52 year old production supervisor with a 4-year college education falls into an uncovered pit at work after July 1, 2017. He has had back problems for many years, but the fall aggravated his prior bulging discs such that he required a laminectomy surgery. He has 4 months of physical therapy and makes a good recovery. He is able to go back to his normal job without restrictions. The company doctor gives him a 0% functional impairment rating. He hires an attorney who sets him up for a 2nd opinion with an IME doctor. The IME doctor determines that he has a 15% impairment rating because of herniated disc with surgery and residual symptoms. The case is probably worth a range between 0% and 15% disability because he is making the same or more money than he did prior to his work injury and his injury occurred after July 1, 2017, when Governor Branstad lead the Republican charge to reduce compensation to injured workers. If his workers' compensation rate is $1,200 per week then this would mean perhaps up to 75 weeks of benefits at $1,200 per week.