Can I Keep Collecting my Workers Compensation if I Can't Return to Work Because my Injury Never Healed?

This question raises a number of different issues including whether you were injured before or after July 1, 2017, when the Iowa legislature stole millions of dollars from hardworking injured Iowa workers giving the money to insurance companies and wealthy corporations. 

Injured July 1, 2017 or After

If you were injured on July 1, 2017 or after then there are a number of considerations to consider.  First and foremost, once you are as good as you are going to get (MMI- maximum medical improvement) and given your permanent work restrictions it is your job to approach your employer and ask for work within these restrictions.  Under no circumstances should you quit or agree to voluntarily resign from your job.  They will need to fire you if they are not willing or able to offer you work within your restrictions which legally called an accommodation.  Presuming that your employer does terminate you then you will probably receive a weekly workers' compensation check for a period of time to be determined by a number of factors discussed below.

Unscheduled also known as industrial or body as a whole injury-  Generally, these are injuries to your back, neck, brain, mental health, CRPS, RSD and other nervous system and circulatory system injuries.  The legislature changed the law eliminating "shoulder" as an industrial injury.  However, it will likely be years before the new statute is defined so if you have what the doctors have called a shoulder injury, it is likely that the insurance company will underpay you and that you will need to at least speak with an Iowa workers compensation attorney to find out more. 

If you can prove you sustained an industrial injury or you qualify for Iowa Second Injury Fund benefits discussed below, then your case will be evaluated based upon a percentage of 500 weeks.  The workers compensation judge assigned to hear your case will consider how far you went in school and what, if any, degrees that you have, your age, the nature and extent of the work injuries you sustained, the medical care you required, what your permanent work restrictions are, your permanent impairment rating, your motivation or lack of motivation to find other work (job searches), your credibility, etc.  Based upon the above factors and much more, let's say the judge says you sustained 40% industrial disability which means you are owed 200 weeks (40% X 500 weeks) of permanent partial disability benefits minus credit for what you have been paid after reaching MMI (maximum medical improvement) or the doctor provides you with an impairment rating. 

Weekly Checks- The weekly checks are paid at the same rate you were paid if you missed work after your injury.  If you have not missed work, then the weekly check should roughly be about the same amount as your weekly take-home pay, but workers' compensation benefits are not taxable.  Technically, your rate is based upon your wages before you were hurt multiplied by 80% of your spendable earnings and then adjusted based upon your marital status and number of dependents that you claim on your taxes. 

Scheduled Member Injury

If you have sustained a scheduled member injury only such as an injury to your finger, hand, arm, foot, leg, eye or hearing loss then you may be limited to payment of your impairment rating only.  For example, if you sustained an injury to your right knee which required surgery and the doctor states you have a 2% impairment rating to your leg along with permanent work restrictions, then you may be limited to the value of a leg (220 weeks X 2% = 4.4 weeks) even if you cannot return to work.  Yes, this is totally not fair to injured workers who lose their livelihood and I can ensure you that we do everything we can to prevent this from happening.  Perhaps you have previously sustained an injury to your other leg, your hand, your arm, your foot or eye which may qualify you for Iowa Second Injury Fund benefits.  Perhaps you have developed back or hip pain because of the way that you walk or depression and anxiety due to your work injuries.  If you are terminated from your job, then you should at the very least talk to an Iowa workers compensation lawyer experienced with the new laws.  You should not try to "settle" your case on your own before at least speaking with a qualified lawyer because you could make a costly mistake. 

Injured Before July 1, 2017

If you were injured before July 1, 2017 then the question is easier to answer because if the insurance company authorized treating physician provided you with permanent work restrictions that your employer was unwilling or unable to accommodate, then yes chances are you will be owed weekly benefits for a period of time.  However, there are many factors in determining how long you will receive a weekly check.  Note: you should not attempt to "settle" your case without at the very least consulting with a qualified Iowa workers compensation attorney.  There are far too many costly mistakes that you could make that could cost you tens of thousands of dollars. 

The first factor is what type of injury you have sustained.  If you sustained an injury to you back, shoulder, neck, brain, hip, CRPS or other what we call industrial, unscheduled or body as a whole injury, then your case will be evaluated differently and better for you than say if you sustained an injury to your finger, hand, elbow, arm, toe, foot, knee, leg, eye, facial scarring or hearing loss.  Also, if you have sustained a work injury to your hand, arm, foot, leg or eye and previously sustained an injury to a different hand, arm, foot, leg or eye then you may qualify for the Iowa Second Injury Fund.  Please keep in mind only the second injury has to be work-related.  For example, if you had a knee injury with surgery before your work injury at issue, regardless if the first injury was work-related or not you may qualify for Iowa Second Injury Fund Benefits. 

If you have an industrial (also known as unscheduled or body as a whole injury) or you qualify for the Iowa Second Injury Fund then you will most likely be compensated for your disability including loss of earning capacity based upon a percentage of 500 weeks of benefits.  For example, if you are found to have sustained 50% industrial disability, then you would be owed a total of 250 weeks of PPD (permanent partial disability) benefits, minus credit for what the insurance company previously paid you after you reached MMI (maximum medical improvement).  There are a number of factors used to determine your percentage of industrial disability including your age, education, work injuries, work restrictions, ability to retrain, work history, etc. 

However, if you can prove that you are permanently totally disabled which basically means because of the severity of your injuries, your work restrictions, education, and age there are no jobs available to you in the open labor market, then you can receive a weekly check for the rest of your life.  Proving permanent total disability is a high standard which usually requires extensive job searches, significant injuries, limiting restrictions and a vocational expert that we hire to assist with the case. 

We know that this is all a bit confusing and overwhelming especially considering all the changes made to the laws effective July 1, 2017.  We are here to answer your questions and help you through what can be a complicated and frustrating process.  We offer you a workers compensation consultation at no cost or risk.  Just give us a call at 641-792-3595 and ask to speak with one of our workers' compensation attorneys.  If one is not immediately available, then we will set a specific time and date to answer your questions and see how we can help. 

If you are not ready to speak with an attorney but would like more information then request our Iowa Work Comp. Book available at no cost to you at: IowaWorkInjury.com

Corey Walker
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With over 22 years legal experience, Corey has been recognized for his work as an injury attorney.