Workers’ Compensation: Classifying Your Disability
The workers’ compensation system in North Carolina generally recognizes four (4) types of disability:
Temporary Total Disability (TTD) — Most individuals involved in workers’ compensation claims are experiencing temporary partial disability. As the name implies, this is a temporary situation that typically arises when an injured worker is recovering from his or her injury. The treating physician will often apply work restrictions to an injured worker to either assist in the recovery, prevent the likelihood of re-injury, or keep the worker from being a danger to self or others. A worker may be held completely out-of-work by the treating physician. Alternatively, the physician may impose work restrictions that potentially prevent the employee from performing the ordinary tasks of his or her job. Examples of these types of restrictions include lifting restrictions, driving restrictions, and positional limitations (e.g., no squatting, kneeling, etc.). If an employer is unable to accommodate the medical restrictions of an injured worker, or the injured worker is unable to obtain alternate employment because of these medical restrictions, the worker is entitled to temporary partial disability (TTD benefits). This is a disability benefit that is paid at a rate of 2/3 of the worker’s Average Weekly Wage (typically computed over the prior 52-week work period).
Temporary Partial Disability (TPD) — This type of benefit arises when an injured worker has work restrictions but is able to return to work with his or her employer or an alternate employer. A worker is entitled to temporary partial disability benefits when this return to work is at a job with a lower rate of pay than the worker enjoyed prior to his or her injury. In this circumstance, the worker receives his or her wages from employment, but also receives a supplementary disability payment equal to 2/3 of the difference between the worker’s weekly wages and the average weekly wage the worker earned prior to his or her on-the-job injury.
Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) — A worker who returns to work, but has some type of functional limitation to the injured body part will typically receive an “impairment rating” from the treating physician. In many instances, the impairment rating is governed by the North Carolina Industrial Commission’s Rating Guide. For instance, there are specific rating to be applied to the injured body part for amputations, and also for certain surgeries. A worker who elects to take payment based on a permanent partial disability rating is entitled to receive a certain lump sum single payment which is based upon three factors: the body part injured, the degree of impairment, and the worker’s average weekly wage prior to the on-the-job injury.
Permanent Total Disability (PTD) — There are only certain categories of injuries in which individuals will be deemed to be permanently and totally disabled. These categories are:
- Loss of both hands, both arms, both feet, both legs, both eyes, or any two thereof
- Spinal injury involving severe paralysis of both arms, both legs, or the trunk
- Severe brain or closed head injury as evidenced by severe and permanent sensory or motor disturbances, communication disturbances, complex integrated disturbances of cerebral function, or neurological disorders
- Second- or third-degree burns to 33% or more of the total body surface
Unlike other injuries for which there is a presumptive time limit on the disability benefits an injured worker may obtain (without petitioning the Industrial Commission for extended benefits), workers who experience the injuries listed above are entitled to lifetime disability benefits. This disability benefit is paid at a rate of 2/3 of the worker’s pre-injury average weekly wage.