Common Questions About Impairment Income Benefits
In Florida workers’ compensation cases, once an individual has achieved the level of maximum medical improvement and an impairment rating has been assigned, the claimant becomes potentially eligible for impairment income benefits. These benefits are paid at the rate of two weeks for each percentage of impairment through 10%, three weeks for impairment ratings between 11-15%, four weeks between 16-20%, and six weeks for any percentages in excess of 20%. If an individual otherwise eligible for impairment income benefits has returned to work at his average weekly wage or greater, then the amount of the impairment income benefits to which he is entitled is reduced by 50%. This formula applies to Florida workplace injuries with a date of accident subsequent to 10/1/03.
Here are some common questions that arise regarding impairment income benefits in workers’ compensation cases:
When are the impairment income benefits due?
The carrier must begin the impairment benefits within 14 days after the carrier has knowledge of the impairment rating. [§ 440.15 (3)(a), Fla. Stat. (10/1/03).
Do I have to be at a level of maximum medical improvement?
Yes, an individual must be at maximum medical improvement (either overall MMI or statutory MMI). If the injured worker has more than one compensable condition, the payment of benefits is not appropriate until the injured worker has reached overall maximum medical improvement. Where the injured worker has both orthopedic and psychiatric injuries, courts may not award permanent benefits until the injured worker has reached maximum medical improvement for both disorders. Crown Carpentry, Inc. v. Guillen, 547 So. 2d 1042 (Fla. 1st DCA 1989).
When must a doctor assign an impairment rating?
The physician must evaluate the injured worker and assign an impairment rating when one of two events occurs: The first is the injured worker has reached maximum medical improvement. The second event occurs six weeks before the injured worker’s entitlement to temporary benefits ends (104 weeks of indemnity paid). At this point, whether the injured worker has attained true “medical” maximum medical improvement or not, the physician must decide an appropriate impairment rating.
What about psychiatric impairment ratings?
Effective Oct. 1, 2003, permanent impairment benefits are limited for the permanent psychiatric impairment to 1% permanent impairment [§ 440.15(3)(c), Fla. Stat. (10/1/2003)]. In Sheaffer v. Publix Super Markets [109 So. 3d 308 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013)], the court reversed a JCC’s finding that the claimant suffered a 0% Psychiatric Permanent Impairment when the unrebutted medical testimony established the claimant would be at severe risk of decompensating if the claimant were to stop taking her psychiatric medication. The court held the claimant was entitled to permanent Impairment benefits based on 1%, the maximum permitted for psychiatric conditions in a workers’ compensation case.
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