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Categories of Workers’ Compensation Disability: Where Do You Fall?

Workers’ compensation law requires employers to pay all legitimate medical expenses related to an injury. This is generally only controversial when there is disagreement over what medical treatments are justified. Often, much of the controversy surrounds what category of disability the injured worker falls into. This is an important topic because it determines how much and for how long an employer’s insurer must compensate an employee for being unable to work. The following discusses the categories of disability payments available to injured workers and what qualifying circumstances are generally present in each.

In general, disability payments are divided into degree (total vs. partial) and longevity (temporary and permanent). In any event, payments are indexed to the worker’s baseline wage (up to a maximum limit). The Workers’ Compensation Board’s Benefits Information Quick Reference Guide provides the current rates at which each category pays out.

Determining what category you fall into is a highly fact-sensitive inquiry, depending on what line of work you are in along with its requirements and rigors, the type and extent of your injury, necessary recovery time, and the availability of alternative employment. The hypothetical injury examples given below are highly generalized and may not necessarily fall into the same disability category they are listed in, depending on the specific facts of the situation. For instance, in some fields, the loss of a finger may constitute permanent total disability and in others it may constitute temporary partial disability. In some fields a broken leg may not require you to miss a substantial time at work or even to reduce your duties, while in others, it may preclude you from working altogether for several weeks.

Temporary Partial Disability

Temporary partial disability is owed when you are able to work immediately, but only at a less rigorous job and at a lower pay.  It is temporary because a full recovery and return to normal work duties is expected.

Temporary Total Disability

Temporary total disability is when you are unable to work in any capacity for a period of time, but a recovery is expected in the future. If you have broken a leg, injured an eye, or suffered some other injury that makes you totally incapable of working (even less demanding work), but the injury will fully heal, you are eligible for temporary total disability.

Even though your total disability status may be temporary, you may still have lingering injuries that make you permanently unable to return to work in your previous capacity. In these cases, your status can shift to permanent partial disability once you are able to return to work in a lesser capacity.

Permanent Partial Disability

Permanent partial disability occurs when you are able to return to work at some point, but you will never be able to return to work in the same capacity. This type of disability is common with less severe permanent injury such as mild brain trauma, digital amputations, and other injuries that will have a limiting impact on your work productivity, but will not preclude you from working entirely.

Employers are required to make accommodations where possible to allow workers to return to work in less demanding capacities suited to their disabilities. If your employer has duties available to you that you can perform with your permanent disability, you should accept them as long as you are able to do so, as unreasonable refusal to return to work may cause you to lose your benefits.

Total Disability

The most severe and long-lasting injuries fall into this category. Catastrophic injuries such as major (debilitating) brain trauma, paralysis, and limb amputations are likely to result in a determination of total disability. Benefits in such cases continue until circumstances change. While there is no “permanent total disability” category, the effect of many such cases is that payments extend indefinitely.

Contact an Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Attorney

If you have been injured on the job, you are entitled not only to your medical expenses but also to your time off to recover. Do not let your employer try to rush you back to work by minimizing the extent of your disability. At Bader Scott Injury Lawyers, we know how to protect you from these intimidation tactics and ensure that you are given the time you need to fully heal before returning to work.  Let us handle your case. Call for a free case evaluation today.


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Seth Bader
(678) 562-5595