Theoretically, the wage loss and medical benefits can last a lifetime. However, this is exceedingly rare. Why is it rare? There are many reasons. First, some people will recover from their injuries. Also, many injured workers will settle their case for a lump sum rather than taking a risk in court in terms of having their benefits reduced or terminated. But the biggest reason is a concept called Partial Disability. Once an injured worker in Pennsylvania is converted to a Partial Disability status, the wage loss is capped at 500 weeks which is approximately 9.5 years.
There are two main ways to be converted to Partial Disability in Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation cases. First, if the injured worker has an earning power, whether by actually working after the injury, or as a result of an Impairment Rating Evaluation, then the 500 weeks starts to run. With respect to earning power, if an injured worker is working after the work-related injury, but earning less than the pre-injury average weekly wage, then they get Partial Disability- 2/3 of the difference between the pre-injury average weekly wage, and the actual earnings post injury. However, even if the injured worker isn’t actually working, they can be converted to a Partial Disability status. How so? By way of a Labor Market Survey/Earning Power Assessment where the insurer hires a vocational expert to establish an earning power. If if the jobs don’t result in a job offer, the Work Comp Judge can find that the injured worker can handle the jobs from a vocational ability and physical capacity standpoint. Similarly, if the pre-injury Employer offers a job and the assigned Work Comp Judge believes the worker can handle it, even if they aren’t actually working, the conversion can take place and wage loss benefits can be reduced accordingly.
With respect to the Impairment Ratings under Pennsylvania Work Comp Law, these are often done within 60 days of the expiration of 104 weeks of Total Disability- so after an injured worker is getting a full work comp checks for 2 years, these evaluations are frequently performed. Almost every injured worker gets an permanent impairment rating of less than 50% which converts the status from Total Disability to Partial Disability- this gets that 500 week clock ticking. This area of the PA Work Comp Law is currently being reviewed by the high courts in Pennsylvania as arguments have been put forth that these may not be constitutional.
The moral of the story here is that while it is theoretically possible to get Pennsylvania Work Comp for a life time, it is rare. Injured workers are constantly faced with “Independent Medical Exams”, and other mechanisms which threaten their checks and overall benefits status. This pressure usually leads to settlements. And even when settlements aren’t reached, the IREs will, in about 99% of cases, lead to a conversion to Partial Disability which then starts the 500 week clock.
UPDATE: In the summer of 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court abolished Impairment Ratings in Pennsylvania in the Protz Decision! As of now, there are no IREs in PA Work Comp! Call us to explain what that means for your case!
For more information about Pennsylvania Work Comp, call or email Certified Pennsylvania Work Comp Lawyer Michael W. Cardamone 7 days a week at (215) 206-9068 or Michael@CardamoneLaw.com