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Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) Settlement Awards
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Introduction to Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Permanent Partial Disability Settlements
Not all work-related accidents result in a permanent injury. However—for those that do the outcome is typically devastating to the injured worker and his or her family. This is because, as is universally accepted by vocational experts in the field, any permanent injury that renders an injured worker unable to perform at a production standard of at least 90% will find himself or herself, after a typical 90-day probationary period, terminated. In other words—any worker that because of his or her permanent injury is “off-task” (or must take an unscheduled break or breaks to relieve himself or herself from the effects of that injury that amounts to at least 10% or more of the workday) will not be able to maintain full-time, long-term competitive employment. Certainly any employer will simply replace such an injured worker and find and hire a worker that can and will maintain a competitive pace and standards, regardless of state and Federal laws otherwise that attempt to protect the jobs of disabled workers.
Any employee that suffers a work-related injury otherwise compensable under Oklahoma law is entitled to receive a cash award or settlement for his or her permanent disability, if such exists, according to the procedure outlined in the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation statute. This process will be discussed in further detail below.
It is imperative that any employee who sustains a serious work-related accident in Oklahoma that results (or will probably result) in a permanent injury to contact an experienced Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation lawyer. Such is necessary to preserve the hurt worker’s right to receive a quick and fair permanent partial disability settlement award to protect that employee and his or her family from any financial hardship that typically flows from such injuries in the absence of such award.
Certainly, contact with an Oklahoma Workers’ Comp attorney should be done immediately after the injury (or as soon as possible thereafter) as proper medical treatment, diagnostic testing and other proper documentation and full development of the case is necessary to receive a maximum settlement once an individual is determined to have a permanent injury and disability. Worst yet, improper work-up and poor development of a given case could result in a worker who indeed has a permanent injury from being found with or eligible for a permanent disability settlement under Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation law.
Permanent Disability vs. Permanent Impairment
Although the terms “Permanent Impairment” and “Permanent Disability” would appear to be the same they are not interchangeable. Consider the following:
- Permanent Partial Disability: Partial disability is the percentage loss of an individual’s ability to function at and completely perform his or her (or another) job, vocation and/or profession. This analysis necessarily takes into consideration a worker’s age, education, and previous employment history. When looking at the concept of disability, each person will have a different “disability” for the same exact injury and restrictions based upon his or her unique vocational profile.
- Permanent Partial Impairment: Permanent partial impairment is the percentage reduction or loss of use in a given individual’s physiological capabilities, anatomical performance and bodily function following an injury or disease process once that condition has become static. An individual’s age, education, and work history is not considered in assessing his or her impairment. As such, a neurosurgeon and a dishwasher would have the same impairment rating if each had the same identical injury.
In Oklahoma the workers’ compensation court has determined that a given worker’s permanent disability is determined by and is the same as his or her permanent partial impairment as proven by competent medical evidence and testimony. Additionally, in the case of whole person or whole-body injuries that become permanent (i.e., spine, head, back, neck, trunk, lung and other internal injuries) medical and judicial determinations of such injured worker’s permanent partial disability impairment and settlement under Oklahoma law must be based on strict criteria and protocol set forth in a medical publication putting forth rules for precisely rating that impairment. The current and applicable version of that book is the American Medical Association’s Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, Sixth Edition.
Once the numerical percentage of a hurt employee’s permanent impairment has been finally decided his or her permanent partial disability cash settlement can be properly calculated under Oklahoma’s Work Comp law. The determination of a hurt worker’s percentage of permanent partial disability is the ultimate responsibility of a Judge of the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court—or through a compromise settlement reached between the injured worker, his Tulsa or Oklahoma City Workers’ Compensation Attorney and the insurance company and/or its attorney.
The process for determining both a given employee’s impairment rating and with that his permanent partial cash settlement award will be described in the following sections.
Timing of Determination of Oklahoma Permanent Partial Disability Settlements
Both the fact and amount of an injured employee’s permanent partial impairment and disability cannot be determined until that worker’s medical condition has reached its maximum medical improvement, or “MMI”. The Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court has determined that the term “maximum medical improvement” means that no further material improvement in a workers’ medical condition could reasonably be expected from additional medical treatment nor the mere passage of time. Note that additional medical treatment of a conservative nature needed to keep an injured worker at his or her maximum medical improvement will not prevent a finding of MMI under Oklahoma law.
Proof and Evidence Needed to Prove a Permanent Injury Under Oklahoma Law
Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court rules are strict on what type and form of evidence is needed to prove both the fact and amount of a permanent injury supporting a cash settlement award. Certainly, all evaluations and evidence of a hurt worker’s permanent partial disability in Oklahoma must be supported by objective medical findings. “Objective findings” are those findings which are not under the voluntary or subjective control of an injured worker.
NOTE: Any determination, decision or award made by an Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Judge as to the existence, nature and/or extent of a hurt employee’s physical impairment must be supported by identifiable, objective and quantifiable physical (or mental) findings.
Any finding, decision or award of permanent partial disability made in Oklahoma by a Workers’ Compensation Judge which is not fully supported and otherwise justified by objective medical evidence provided by a medical expert who is either a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine or a medical doctor will be thrown out on judicial review as an abuse of the trial court’s discretion.
An injured worker and/or his or her Oklahoma workers’ compensation attorney must come forth with proper proof of the fact and amount of that workers’ permanent disability. This proof must be in strict compliance with Oklahoma statutes and be supported by the opinion and testimony of a medical doctor. According to Oklahoma law, to be admissible in court, all medical opinions and testimony from a physician addressing permanent disability and impairment must be provided within a reasonable degree of medical probability.
NOTE: In Oklahoma expert medical testimony, evidence and opinions may, at the option of an injured worker and/or his or her Tulsa or Oklahoma City Workers’ Compensation attorney, be provided by testimony from a doctor made in open court, by deposition, and finally via a declared or otherwise verified narrative medical report made by an expert physician. In any case—the testimony of a medical expert will be accorded such weight by the Workers’ Compensation Court as warranted when considering all the evidence in the record of the case.
Any request made by a hurt worker and/or his or her Tulsa Workers’ Comp attorney for a cash settlement for his or her permanent partial injury must be accompanied with and otherwise supported by proper and competent medical testimony of a medical doctor (or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) which expert opinion must be based upon objective clinical testing and findings (to include the results of any radiographic or other diagnostic testing). The doctor’s testimony must necessarily include his or her opinion of the injured employee’s percentage of permanent partial disability—and further the doctor’s opinion as to whether or not that permanent impairment is work-related and otherwise caused (or aggravated in some cases) by the accidental injury or occupational disease at issue in the underlying case.
NOTE: Any medical or judicial determination of the existence, nature or extent of physical and/or mental impairment attributable to a hurt worker must be supported by objective and measurable physical or mental findings.
Oklahoma law mandates that impairment ratings made for non or unscheduled Injuries (i.e., head/brain, spine, back, neck, lungs, and torso) formulated by medical experts must be based entirely on protocol and procedures set forth in the 6th Edition of the AMA’s “Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment”. Certainly any deviation from the Guides must be explicitly allowed for by the Guides and the reason for the deviation fully explained by the examining expert witness as part of his opinion in the case.
Pain and its effect on Permanent Partial Disability Settlements in Oklahoma
Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court rules are clear that when deciding what a given injured worker’s permanent partial disability award should be, any workers’ comp judge, appeals court, doctor, physician, and/or any other medical provider cannot incorporate into the rating or otherwise consider the worker’s subjective complaints of pain. In other words, “pain and suffering” is not a compensable item in the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court.
Permanent Partial Disability Cash Settlements Available for Cumulative-Trauma Injury Cases in Oklahoma
Cumulative-trauma, repetitive motion or other overuse injuries are compensable work-related injuries under Oklahoma law. The Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court has determined that a cumulative trauma or repetitive injury is one that is caused by the combined effect of repetitive physical activities extending over a period of time in the course and scope of employment. To be counted under Oklahoma law this Cumulative trauma must have resulted directly and independently of all other causes.
Calculating “Scheduled” and “Whole-Person” Permanent Settlements in Oklahoma
Oklahoma has two separate and distinct methods for calculating the precise cash dollar amount of an Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation settlement. They are mutually exclusive, and the particular methodology or process used in a given case is wholly dependent on the specific part of the injured worker’s body injured. In other words, for any given body part there is but one, and only one, method in Oklahoma for determining how much that body part is worth if permanently damaged. The method used is dependent upon whether the body part permanently injured is on a “schedule” contained in the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Act, and hence, a “scheduled injury”. If not on this schedule, the injury is described or defined as an “unscheduled” or “whole-person” injury—the value of which is determined by a completely different methodology.
Calculating “Scheduled” or “Extremity” Permanent Settlements in Oklahoma
As the term applies “Scheduled Injuries” are those which cause injury or damage to body parts specifically listed on the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Schedule, and generally these injuries on the schedule are limited to injuries to a worker’s extremities, i.e. arms, legs, knees, elbows, ankles, fingers (including the thumbs), toes, ankles, wrists and hands and feet. Also listed on the schedule are injuries or damage to a worker’s senses, such as hearing loss and eye injury(ies). The precise methodology for calculating a scheduled injury settlement in Oklahoma can be found at the following link:
Calculating “Non-Scheduled” or “Whole-Person” Permanent Settlements in Oklahoma
As the name implies, “Non-Scheduled” or “Whole-Body” permanent disability cases in Oklahoma are any permanent injuries that are not specifically listed on the schedules contained in the state workers’ comp statute. Since the schedules generally deal with “extremities” or injuries to a worker’s limbs—“Non-Scheduled” and “Whole-Person” cases deal with injuries to a worker’s head, brain (including closed-head injuries, traumatic brain and psychological injuries), face, mouth, neck (or cervical spine), back (including both the lumbar and thoracic spine), pelvis, sacroiliac joint, lungs and other internal injury and damage. The precise mechanism for calculating permanent partial disability settlements for “Whole-Person” or “Scheduled” injuries in Oklahoma can be found at the following link:
Limitations on Permanent Partial Disability Settlements in Oklahoma
AGING: According to the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court advanced age, aging and/or the combined effect of the aging process upon an otherwise compensable injury will not be considered in determining an injured worker’s permanent partial impairment cash settlement.
SUM OF ALL PPD AWARDS CANNOT EXCEED 100%: Under Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court rules any single injured worker cannot receive either one individual or any combination of several permanent partial disability awards that exceed a permanent partial disability rating of one hundred percent (100%) to either any one body part or even to the body as a whole.
NO PPD FOR UNTREATED BODY PARTS: The Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court has determined that no compromise settlement nor a judicial award can be made for permanent impairment to any part of an injured worker’s body for which he or she did not receive active medical care and treatment for.
PPD AWARDS IN OKLAHOMA CANNOT BE CONCURRENTLY PAID: Under Oklahoma law cash payments on any permanent partial disability awarded will not commence or otherwise begin to be paid until all payments on any and all permanent partial disability orders have been completely paid out.
Oklahoma Permanent Partial Disability Settlements for Injured Workers Using Implantable or Prosthetic Devices
Permanent disability awards in Oklahoma for prosthetic devices: The Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court has determined that a “prosthetic” device is one used to replace a part or joint of an injured worker’s body that is lost or injured in an otherwise compensable accident under the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Act. Examples would be prosthetic limbs, corrective lenses, hearing aids or joint implants such as a total knee (TKA), hip (THA) or disc replacement or arthroplasty.
Permanent Partial Disability Settlements for “Consequential Injuries”
Under Oklahoma Workers’ compensation law, a “Consequential injury” is an injury or separately identifiable damage to a part or member of an injured worker’s body that was a natural and direct result of the injury or medical treatment to the part of the body originally injured in his or her case. By law the Oklahoma workers’ compensation court is not permitted to make a finding of a consequential injury unless and until it is proven by objective medical evidence that medical care and treatment for that body part was actually needed and if fact did occur.
Monetary Rate for Permanent Partial Disability Awards & Settlements in Oklahoma
Except in cases where an injured worker hires a Tulsa or Oklahoma City Workers Comp Lawyer, and a lump-sum cash settlement is ultimately reached—all permanent partial impairment awards in Oklahoma are paid out on either a weekly or bi-weekly basis until fully paid. The amount paid on this periodic basis will be calculated at the rate of seventy percent (70%) of the hurt worker’s pre-injury average weekly earnings, up to a maximum amount currently capped at three hundred and sixty dollars ($360) per week.
The maximum award or length of time that an injured worker in Oklahoma may receive permanent partial disability benefits for one single whole person injury (or a combination of permanently injured body parts) is three-hundred and sixty (360) weeks. This means that an injured worker in Oklahoma cannot receive more than $129,600 for either one single whole person injury or a combination of scheduled and non-scheduled awards—either for the current injury or as a result of a prior Oklahoma workers’ compensation injury case (or even multiple cases).
Oklahoma Permanent Disability Cash Settlements for Reinjury or Aggravation of a Pre-Existing Condition or Disease
Cash Settlement Possible for Aggravation of a Pre-existing Injury or Underlying Medical Condition: Under Oklahoma’s Work Comp law the fact that an employee has previously suffered an injury or been under a disability (or even been paid money for such) will not prevent him or her from receiving a cash settlement for a subsequent work-related injury or disease to the same body part—as long as the later work-related injury produced a permanent and identifiable aggravation of the pre-existing and/or underlying condition or injury.
NOTE: The Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court has defined the term “Pre-existing condition” to be any injury, disease, illness, and/or other mental or physical ailment or condition, work related or not, for which a medical diagnosis was made or for which treatment was either recommended or received predating the injury date in the present case.
Calculating PPD Settlement for an Aggravation of a Pre-existing Injury in Oklahoma: In any situation in which a prior permanent disability is present, to even include a pre-existing and non-employment related injury or disease which did result in permanent disability, and this pre-existing condition or disease is aggravated or accelerated by a subsequent and otherwise compensable work-related injury covered under Oklahoma law, any permanent partial disability settlement and/or award will only include that percentage amount of impairment which was directly and proximately caused or created by the second or latest job-related injury (or industrial disease). To be clear—no cash award or settlement will be paid for the pre-existing injury or impairment, only any impairment directly related to the aggravation caused by the later injury or disease will be compensated under Oklahoma compensation law.
Prior Award of Disability Awarded by Oklahoma Court Conclusive Proof of Fact and Amount of Impairment for Pre-existing Condition: In a situation where a worker has previously been given either a workers’ compensation award or settlement approved by the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court—the impairment percentage found or awarded by the Court (or contained in the prior settlement paperwork) will conclusively establish the percentage amount of pre-existing permanent partial disability in any subsequent proceeding. On the other hand—If a prior award or settlement of workers’ compensation benefits has not previously been made, the amount of preexisting permanent partial disability must be established by competent evidence put before the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court.
The rules as to when and how an injured worker goes about obtaining a permanent partial disability cash settlement in Oklahoma are complicated. Any misstep by an employee in presenting his or her case could result in a wholly inadequate permanent disability award or even no award at all.
The Ash Law Firm offers a free, no-obligation case review to determine the settlement value of your case. If representation is desired—ASH | LAW handles all cases on a contingency fee basis. In other words—we do not get paid unless and until you get paid. The law firm also advances any case costs to properly get your case to workers’ comp court, which would necessarily include paying for a medical doctor to properly rate your permanent impairment.
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