A job-related injury may result in time lost from work that is typically compensated through payment of temporary total disability. Whether or not lost time results from the injury or temporary total disability compensation is paid, injuries can leave residual impairment that interferes with activities of daily living and performance of job duties. Such partial disability can occur even if the residual impairment doesn’t prohibit a return to work, whether that be the job you were working when the injury happened or other work available within any resulting job restrictions.
Ohio compensates for such residual partial disability through a cash payment known as permanent partial disability (PPD). This is the workers’ compensation version of “pain and suffering” or what would be considered a damages award in a personal injury case.
Actually, “pain and suffering” in a personal injury case differs significantly from PPD in a workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation doesn’t actually compensate for anything akin to pain and suffering; rather, PPD benefits compensate for a loss of bodily function resulting from an on-the-job injury. Furthermore, the term “disability” is itself a misnomer as disability typically involves bodily impairment plus consideration of other factors such as the individual’s age, education and work experience.
An example may be helpful to demonstrate the difference between “disability” and “impairment”: a middle-aged ditch digger with limited education likely experiences far greater disability following the very same back injury suffered by a rocket scientist as the impact on the laborer’s employment options is probably much greater. While the ditch digger and the scientist have the same injury and hence the same medical impairment, the impact on them (the “disability”) is undoubtedly quite different.
In days gone by, Ohio Hearing Officers were ordered to consider the impact of the injury on an employee’s life in general by considering the claimant’s age, education and work experience in addition to the physical impairment. However, this changed when the Industrial Commission of Ohio (ICO) issued a resolution directing its hearing officers to base an award of PPD compensation solely on medical or clinical findings without consideration of non-medical disability factors.
The percentage of partial disability determined by the BWC state examiner may be contested by the injured worker and/or the employer and either party may submit additional medical reports. At hearing, the ICO hearing officer will grant an award within the range between the percentages of impairment found by the various physicians. It’s important to know that a PPD award is not a settlement of the claim; the claim remains open and additional compensation and treatment, as appropriate, may be authorized. In addition, if the partial disability worsens following the initial award, the injured worker may request an increase in the PPD rating.