Representing the Injured or Disabled Member Part 38: The Permanent Partial Disability

By: Jim Cline and Erica Shelley Nelson

This article is the 38th  in a multiple part series covering the rights your injured and disabled members have and how you, as a union or guild representative, can best assist them.  Over the next several weeks we’ll be publishing, in various segments, information on how state and federal laws protect your members who are hurt or otherwise unable to work. We’ll cover topics including disability discrimination law, the FMLA, job protection rights under the CBA, workers compensation, disability benefits, and the right to bring a civil lawsuit.

The topics we are covering are also going to be addressed in detail in a book that we published: Helping the Injured or Disabled Member: A Guidebook for the Washington Law Enforcement and Fire Union Representative.  It is also our intention over the course of the next year to travel through the state and provide training to public safety union and guild representatives on how best to enforce these rights.  Expect to hear more on that in the months ahead.

This 38th article in these newsletter series provides a discussion of how state workers compensation recognizes permanent partial disabilities. For more information, visit our Premium Website. On the website you’ll find an on line version of the Injured or Disabled Member’s Guidebook and other information on the laws covering your members.

Once a workplace injury has reached “maximum medical improvement,” the employee may be entitled to a permanent partial disability (PPD) award, which is a lump sum payment.  The permanent partial disabilities are divided into two groups: specified and unspecified disabilities.[1]  Once the disability is categorized in either of the two groups, the disability is given a rating or percentage of permanent impairment.[2]  That rating is converted to compensation.[3]  A PPD award is a lump sum paid at the conclusion of the claim.[4]

Often the Department or self-insured employer will hire an IME provider to evaluate the injured worker and rate the total PPD. Once that rating is provided, the worker and the attending provider should determine whether or not the rating is appropriate for the level of disability. It is not uncommon for an IME provider to find a lower or incorrect impairment rating than the rating identified by the injured worker’s attending physician.

The attending physician has been treating the injured worker for much longer and is certainly more equipped to assess the level of impairment then an independent medical examiner who has likely only seen the injured worker on one occasion.  As a result, to the extent the attending physician disagrees with the examiner, the injured worker has the option to challenge the rating.

The Department or self-insured employer will send an order and notice containing the PPD award.  That notice will have appeal language as well as the deadline to appeal the PPD rating and award.  If the attending provider and the worker do not agree with the rating and award, they should file a timely protest and request for reconsideration, or appeal with the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals (BIIA), the appellate review board that hears appeals from Department decisions.

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[1]WAC 296-20-19010, 19020.

[2] RCW 51.32.080.

[3] Id.

[4] RCW 51.32.055.

**Visit our Premium Website for more information on Workers Compensation. **