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Maryland Workers' Compensation: Idiosyncrasies of Permanent Partial Disability Awards

February 20, 2020
February 20, 2020

Once the claimant’s condition is at maximum medical improvement, the Maryland statute provides for the award of permanency benefits depending on the level of disability. The level of disability is determined by the percentage of loss of use of the particular body part. This percentage is then used to calculate the number of weeks of compensation. The statute includes a list of body parts that are assigned maximum number of weeks of compensation. For example, the list includes the thumb that has 100 weeks assigned as the maximum number of weeks for total loss of use.  A 50% loss of use of the thumb would be worth 50 weeks of compensation. Permanent partial disability of parts of the body other than those listed in the statute are determined by the percentage of loss of use of the body as a whole. The statute assigns 500 weeks as the number of weeks for loss of use of the body as a whole. The back is not listed in the statute. Therefore, a 10% disability to the back would be worth 50 weeks of compensation.

The number of weeks of compensation determines the rate of compensation. Awards of less than 75 weeks of compensation are called tier I awards. Awards of 75 weeks to less than 250 weeks are called tier II awards. Awards of 250 weeks or more are called serious disability awards. As a general example, the maximum compensation rates for an injury occurring in 2018 are $183.00 per week for tier I and $365.00 per week for tier II. The 2018 maximum compensation rate for serious disability is $821.00 per week. But serious disability results in the award of an additional one third of the number of weeks of compensation. These tiers create significant changes in valuation of awards with minor changes in weeks awarded. Using a 2018 injury as an example, a 74-week award is worth $13,542.00. A 75-week award is worth $27,375.00. More striking, a 249-week award is worth $90,885.00. A 250-week award is worth $273,666.60 after adding the additional one third number of weeks.

Awards of permanent partial disability are usually in an expected range. When presented with medical opinions A and B, the commissioner will usually base the award on A or B or somewhere in between. But the commission has wide latitude in awarding permanent partial disability. It may award compensation for a level of disability greater than the highest rating in the medical evidence. When more than one body part is involved, the commission may award compensation based on loss of use of the body as a whole for listed parts of the body and may award compensation for greater than 100% permanent partial disability. So, while permanency awards are usually mundane, a minor change can make a big difference.