Claims for permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits may survive the non-work-related death of a worker, according to a recent affirmation by the Idaho Supreme Court.
Although this is an out-of-state case, other high courts – including the one in Georgia – may look to this ruling for guidance under similar circumstances.
Permanent partial disability benefits are one of the most common type of workers’ compensation claims, comprising half of all workers’ compensation claims nationwide. PPD is when some form of permanent impairment resulted from the work injury, leaving the worker unable to perform at his or her full capacity. It’s different from total disability, which is when the worker is unable to perform any work due to the on-the-job injury.
Back injuries are the most common reason PPD benefits are awarded, but they can also include hearing loss, amputation, knee injury, nerve damage, loss of vision in one eye, carpal tunnel syndrome or post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the case of Mayer v. TPC Holdings, Inc., the underlying issue was a back injury, which claimant suffered in the course and scope of employment in June 2012. A maintenance worker, he had been lifting a computer monitor at the time. Earlier that same day, he’d grabbed a ladder to stop it from falling through a window and in so doing, twisted his back. These injuries were compensable.
In March of 2014, claimant was still receiving workers’ compensation benefits when he suffered a heart-attack. Sadly, it proved to be fatal. It was unrelated to his job. Although he had been paid in full as to his impairment rating prior to his death, he died before the industrial commission could make a determination about what his PPD benefits would be in excess of that impairment rating.
A few months after his death, decedent’s widow filed a workers’ compensation complaint as beneficiary of his estate, asserting she was entitled to his disability benefits in excess of his impairment (which was rated at 9 percent).
At the time of his death, he’d been paid $19,000 in compensation.
The question was whether his surviving dependents could receive his full permanent partial disability benefits – minus the permanent partial impairment payments he had already received – even though he’d already died.
The company argued that the state law on which the commission relied in reaching its decision in favor of the widow was ambiguous and further ran contrary to the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Company also asserted that “permanent disability” in the state statute was the same thing as “permanent impairment.”
State supreme court disagreed and affirmed.
The court noted that permanent disability is when the actual or presumed ability to engage in gainful employment is reduced because of permanent impairment and no marked change can be reasonably expected. Partial impairment, meanwhile, is when there is any functional abnormality or loss, and it’s a basic consideration in the evaluation of permanent disability. It’s a contributing factor, but not necessarily an indicator of the entire extent of permanent disability.
So while the permanent partial impairment had been paid in full, the permanent partial disability benefits here had not – they were still being determined when worker died. Worker’s widow was entitled to a finding and, if appropriate, a payout on those remaining benefits.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-920-4708 .