Workers’ compensation claims are complicated and involve a lot of legal terms. You may be confused when your doctor starts talking about “maximum medical improvement” and your impairment rating. Here’s what you need to know.
What is MMI?
The term “maximum medical improvement” (MMI) refers to when a doctor finds that no additional medical treatment or care will improve your condition. This does not mean you are completely healed or will not need any additional medical care in the future. Instead, it simply means that you have stabilized. The condition you are currently in is likely the condition you will remain in permanently.
What Happens After MMI Is Reached?
Reaching MMI does not mean you are now considered disabled. According to South Carolina’s workers’ compensation laws, MMI, disability, and impairment are all separate concepts. MMI simply means your condition will not improve with further medical treatment. Impairment refers to the loss of any normal physical or mental abilities. Disability refers to the inability to carry out daily tasks in your life, which could also affect your ability to work and future earnings. It is important to understand these distinctions because it can affect your benefits and the compensation you may receive. For example, you may be impaired, but not disabled because you are able to return to work.
Once you have reached MMI, the next step is to determine if you have any “permanent partial impairment”.
Who Determines My Impairment Rating?
Your treating doctor will issue an impairment rating that is critical in determining the value of your case. The doctor will assess how much loss of function you have experienced, as well as whether your injury will affect your ability to return to your job.
Impairment Rating Scale: What Is a Good Impairment Rating?
Your impairment rating is meant to reflect the amount of change you have experienced since your pre-injury condition. The doctor will assign you a percentage value that is a rough estimate of how much bodily function you have lost. Your rating will be calculated on a 0-100 scale, which shows the percentage of impairment you’ve suffered due to your injury. For example, a 20 percent impairment rating means you have suffered impairment that affects 20 percent of your body.
Your impairment rating will affect how much compensation you may receive, whether you will be expected to return to work, and what benefits you may receive.
Typically, if you have an impairment rating below 50, you are not considered to have total disability. Injured workers with impairment ratings above 50 are generally considered to have total disability.
4 Factors Affecting Your Impairment Rating
Your rating is based on factors such as:
- Whether you underwent surgery;
- Loss of strength;
- Decreased range of motion; and
- Pain levels.
For instance, a shoulder surgery may leave you unable to lift, carry, or pull as much weight as before your injury. Likewise, you may not be able to extend your arms above your head due to the operation. Thus, even though the surgery may have been a success, you are still "impaired" with regard to the use and function of a specific body part.
South Carolina Impairment Rating Charts
Some people think that a workers’ comp case is determined entirely by a “formula” set forth by the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. They are typically referring to the statute that assigns monetary values for each body part that can be affected by an injury. The section 42-9-30 of the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act lays out the number of weeks of compensation a worker may receive for each affected body part. Check out the table below for a breakdown of what compensation you can expect to receive for a permanent partial impairment.
For example, if you’ve lost an arm due to a work-related accident, you will receive compensation for the entire 220 weeks the SC statute dictates. However, it gets tricky when you are experiencing only partial disability. Your impairment rating will be used along with the consideration of lost future wages to calculate a percentage of disability. This percentage will determine how much of the compensation you will be eligible to receive.
Workers’ Compensation Disability Rating in South Carolina
It is important to keep in mind that your impairment rating is determined by a medical professional. Your level of disability will be determined by the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission.
Your impairment rating may be used by the Commission, along with other factors, to determine a “disability award”. The Commission may take into consideration your age, education level, and employment history and skills. Your level of disability will affect the amount of benefits you receive, as well as the amount of time you receive them.
Questions About Your Impairment Rating? A South Carolina Workers' Comp Lawyer Can Help
Doctors should issue impairment ratings in accordance with guidelines handed down by the American Medical Association. Your doctor should also put you through a series of strength and flexibility tests before issuing a rating. If you have questions about the accuracy of your impairment rating or some aspect of workers' compensation in South Carolina, learn your rights. For a free case evaluation, call our office today at (803) 790-2800 or reach out to us by using the live chat box below.