Millions of workers are injured each year in work-related accidents. In some cases, workers never fully recover and suffer permanent injuries to parts of their bodies. When this happens, the workers' compensation laws usually have a pre-set formula to figure out the amount of benefits injured workers are entitled to and for how long.
Schedules are used in most if not all workers' compensation laws when a worker loses a body part or loses the use of body part in a work-related accident. The schedules typically provide the number of weeks a worker is entitled to benefits, separated by the body part or limb that's injured. How long you're entitled to benefits depends on the injury; how much you're entitled to be paid each week depends on the seriousness of the injury.
Federal workers are covered by the Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA). FECA's schedule is broken down into about 20 different body parts and how many weeks of benefits may be paid for each of those body parts. For example, a lost:
- Arm is paid 312 weeks' compensation
- Leg is paid 288 weeks' compensation
- Hand is paid 244 weeks' compensation
- Foot is paid 205 weeks' compensation
- Thumb is paid 75 weeks' compensation
- First finger is paid 46 weeks' compensation
How much? In the federal scheme, you're entitled to be paid 66 2/3 percent of your monthly salary or wages.
How long? If you completely lose one of these limbs or digits, say through an amputation, or if you completely lose all function, your permanent disability is 100 percent. This means you're entitled to all of the weeks of benefits listed in the schedule. If you're injury is less than 100 percent, the time is based on the percentage of loss. For instance, if you lose 25 percent use of a hand, you're entitled to 61 weeks of compensation (244 x 25 percent).
Most if not all states use schedules similar to FECA's. In fact, most states use the same list of limbs and body parts used in FECA. Also, the states generally reduce benefits for injuries less than 100 percent using the same formula in FECA. But there usually are some differences depending on the state where you live.
For example, New York's schedule is essentially the same as FECA's when it comes to covered body parts and weeks of compensation. However, your benefits are based on your average weekly wages or salary, not monthly wages as in FECA. Average weekly wages are usually based on what you earned in the 52 weeks before the injury.
Iowa's schedule is very different. It uses FECA's basic list of limbs, but the weeks of compensation are different. For example, you get 250 weeks' compensation for a lost arm (as opposed to 312 weeks under FECA). However, in Iowa you're entitled to 80 percent of your average weekly wages. That's almost 15 percent more than what's paid under FECA and New York's law.
There are other differences between these states' laws and FECA, and almost certainly between FECA and any other state. It's crucial you check the laws in your area or with your state's workers' compensation agency for specific details.
Who Decides the Percentage?
As a general rule, loss or loss of use of a limb or body part is determined by your doctor once you've reached permanent and stationary status. That's the point in your recover where it's likely you'll get no better or no worse. If you have a permanent disability, your doctor will give it a rating or percentage, like "25 percent loss of use."
Once that's completed, your employer's doctor - or more realistically, a doctor hired by your employer's insurance carrier - looks at your case and decide whether or not he agrees with your doctor's opinion. This often is a complicated and drawn-out battle. It's very common for the doctors to disagree about the severity of a loss.
In fact, the whole process of getting compensation for a scheduled loss can be complicated. It's always a good idea to talk to an experienced workers' compensation attorney for help getting all of the benefits you're entitled to receive.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Is it a scheduled loss if a pinched nerve in my back causes numbness and some loss of use of my leg?
- Am I entitled to weekly compensation for a scheduled loss while resolving a dispute with the insurance company over the severity of my loss?
- I accepted a settlement offer from my employer's insurance company, but now I think my injury is more serious. Is there anything I can do to get more benefits?