There are many factors that determine the Lump Sum settlement value of a Massachusetts’ workers’ compensation claim. Some Massachusetts’ workers compensation claims may have no settlement value at all, while some may have a settlement value of several hundred thousand dollars (or more). While it is important to stress that each individual workers’ compensation claim must be evaluated individually, there are some important factors that determine if a claim has settlement value, and if so, the amount of that settlement value.
Each state administers its own individual system of workers’ compensation benefits. In Massachusetts, the workers’ compensation system is known as what is commonly referred to as a “wage loss” system. That is, if a work related injury or medical condition causes a period of disability from work that also causes wage loss, then the injured worker is entitled to weekly wage loss benefits. It should be noted that not all work related injuries (even if the injury prevents the injured worker from returning to the previous occupation that they were performing while they were injured) cause a wage loss. For example, a forty five year old employee with a master’s degree in computer science is laid off from his job as a computer software programmer where he was paid $78,000.00 per year, or $1,500.00 per week. In order to pay his bills while he looks for another job in the computer software field, he takes a job in the construction industry as a laborer. While working as a laborer, he strains his back. Although the injury isn’t serious enough to cause him to need back surgery, the injured worker is permanently disabled from working as a laborer where he was earning $1,000.00 per week. His treating doctor is of the opinion that he can return to work at a sedentary or light duty job. Because he is capable of earning more money as a computer software programmer, an occupation he is trained for, physically able to do, and pays him more money than the laborer job, he has no wage loss and would not be entitled to any weekly workers compensation after the point in time where his doctor cleared him to return to light duty work.
Understanding the concept of wage loss (in the context of a workers compensation claim) is critical to understanding whether a claim has settlement value, and if so, how much that settlement value amounts to. A claim has settlement value if it appears as though the workers compensation insurer will be responsible for payment of weekly wage loss benefits for a period of time into the future, i.e. “future exposure” due to future wage loss caused by the industrial injury. This most commonly occurs when an injured worker is assigned permanent physical restrictions by his treating doctor, those permanent physical restrictions prevent that injured worker from returning to his previous occupation, and his inability to return to that previous occupation will continue to cause a wage loss for the foreseeable future. At the point in time that these factors become apparent, then it appears as though a claim has settlement value.
The settlement value of a claim depends mostly on the amount of money the injured worker was earning prior to his work injury (“average weekly wage”), and how much he is capable of earning after the injury (taking into consideration the injured workers’ age, education, transferable job skills, and permanent physical restrictions). This can be a complex analysis that should be handled by a Massachusetts’ workers’ compensation attorney. Many claims require that attorney for the injured worker to retain a vocational expert to determine what the post-injury earning capacity of the injured workers. This earning capacity is then used to determine the injured workers’ wage loss, which is in turn used to determine his weekly workers’ compensation benefit. After weekly wage loss and the resulting weekly workers’ compensation benefit is determined, an estimation must be made as to how long the injured worker is likely to receive that benefit. A calculation is then made as to the possible total weekly workers’ compensation money owed to the injured worker by the worker’s compensation insurer over the life of the claim. There are many factors that determine how long an injured worker is likely to receive weekly workers’ compensation for, including age, education, work history and the extent of physical limitations imposed by the work injury (See Section 34, Section 35 and Section 34A benefits.) Some claims may be limited to seven years or less of total benefit entitlement, while other injured workers may be entitled to weekly workers compensation payments for the remainder of their life.
It should be noted that there are many other factors not mentioned in this blog post that determine whether a Massachusetts’ workers’ compensation claim has lump sum settlement value. There are also many other factors not discussed in the blog that determine the actual lump sum settlement value. In fact, a surviving spouse’s claim for her spouse’s work related fatality (Section 31 death claim) involves a completely different analysis that the analysis provided in this blog. At Carney, Rezendes & Crowley, LLC, all of our client consultations are free, and we would be happy to discuss your workers’ compensation claim and whether (in our opinion) your claim has any lump sum settlement value.