Common physical hazards among motel workers include injuries from cleaning chemicals to lifting of objects and musculoskeletal injuries, to slips and falls and repetitive motion injuries. Should any of these conditions result in permanent disability, or particularly permanent partial disability, different methods are used by the states to provide benefits to injured workers for permanent partial disabilities under their motel workers’ compensation programs.
Injuries resulting in permanent impairments
When an injury occurs that results in a permanent impairment, certain body parts are compensated in a consistent way. Approximately 43 jurisdictions use a schedule for a list of body parts that are covered. Typically, a schedule appears in the underlying statute and lists benefits to be paid for specific losses (for example, the loss of a finger).
These losses invariably include the upper and lower extremities and may also include an eye. Most state schedules also include the loss of hearing in one or both ears.
Injuries to the spine that are permanently disabling are typically not scheduled, nor are injuries to internal organs, head injuries, and occupational diseases. For unscheduled conditions, the approaches used can be categorized into four methods:
Impairment-Based Approach: About 19 states use this approach to compensate for an unscheduled permanent partial disability. In approximately 14 of those states, the worker with an unscheduled permanent partial disability receives a benefit based entirely on the degree of impairment. Any future earnings losses of the worker are not considered.
Loss-of-Earning-Capacity Approach: Roughly 13 states use this approach to determine the permanent partial disability benefit for an unscheduled impairment. This approach links the benefit to the worker’s ability to earn or to compete in the labor market, that is, it involves a forecast of the economic impact that the impairment will have on the worker.
Wage-Loss Approach: In the 10 or so states that use this method, benefits are paid for the actual or ongoing losses that a worker incurs. In some states, the permanent partial disability benefit begins after it has been determined that maximum medical improvement has been achieved. In states that use this approach, permanent disability benefits can simply be the extension of temporary disability benefits until the disabled worker returns to employment.
Bifurcated Approach: In nine jurisdictions, the benefit for a permanent disability depends on the worker’s employment status at the time that the worker’s condition is assessed, after the condition has stabilized. If the worker has returned to employment with earnings at or near the pre-injury level, the benefit is based on the degree of impairment. If the worker has not returned to employment, or has returned but at lower wages than before the injury, the benefit is based on the degree of lost earning capacity.
Temporary total disability benefits cease when the worker has returned to employment at or near the pre-injury wage level. Those benefits can be terminated when the worker is found medically able to return to work. Alternatively, if the worker’s medical condition stabilizes and is unlikely to change, the temporary benefit will also end.
State laws describe this stage as one in which the worker’s condition has reached:
1. Maximum medical improvement, or has become
2. Permanent and stationary
In addition, some jurisdictions set a ceiling on the amount of time for which these benefits need to be paid and, in a few cases, on the amount of the payment. When temporary benefits have ended, the worker may be entitled to receive benefits for permanent partial disability.