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Permanent Disability Benefits Within California's Workers' Compensation System

Although many workers fully recover from workplace injuries, some continue to have medical problems. If you suffered a work-related injury or illness before 2005 that resulted in permanent symptoms, loss of function, work restrictions, or a decreased ability to compete in the labor market, you may qualify for Permanent Disability (P.D.) benefits within California's Workers' Compensation system.

Permanent Disability Benefits: California Man tested for Permanent Disabilities

A Change in the System

Under the "old" system, these weekly payments were based on a person's loss of ability to compete in the open labor market.

After 2005, California Labor Code prescribes a new way for P.D. benefits to be calculated. Benefits for claims are based in part on a book entitled the American Medical Association Guidelines, 5th Edition (AMA Guides).  The book purports to provide an "objective basis" for evaluating loss of overall body function. Disability caused by subjective symptoms (pain) without objective findings may no longer be compensated. The new guidelines may also apply to injuries before 2005 if a doctor did not declare the injured worker "permanent and stationary" prior to that date, or if the employee has not returned to work after a period of Temporary Disability before 2005.

Court Decisions Play a Role

P.D. benefits for many disabilities have also been significantly altered by reforms passed in 2004 and 2012. Court decisions, particularly the Almaraz/Guzman series of cases, have given injured workers an opportunity to be compensated more accurately by allowing a physician to use different charts and tables in the Guides in describing permanent disability.

The final P.D. rating, a percentage between 1 percent and 99 percent, establishes the amount of the award and the length of time benefits will be paid. Employees may still be eligible to receive this benefit even after returning to work. These benefits are paid tax-free. Given the changes in the law, a capable attorney can help you navigate through these changes to ensure that you are awarded an accurate P.D. award.

Full Disclosure Is Paramount

Employees must disclose previous disabilities upon request, and employers are liable only for the portion of the P.D. caused by the workplace injury. Any prior P.D. award is now presumed to exist at the time of a subsequent injury. Successive awards may never exceed 100 percent for multiple injuries to any one region of the body. This issue is known as apportionment, and the law is  constantly evolving on this issue. If your Award is being reduced because of a pre-existing condition or prior Award, you should consult an attorney before agreeing to the settlement. 

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