Your employer is likely to give you a raise each year, but what about if you injure yourself and start to collect workers’ comp? Will the amount of your benefits increase every year? Will there be a cost-of-living increase applied to your workers’ comp. benefits? Good questions – we’re here to provide you with the answers.
Workers’ compensation law in Pennsylvania are favorable in some respects to injured workers. For example, if you hurt yourself on the job, you don’t have to prove that the injury was due to anybody’s fault (as you would if you had a non-work-related motor vehicle accident or slip-and-fall); you only have to show that you were injured in the course of your employment.
However, one of the unfavorable aspects of Pennsylvania workers’ comp. law is that once your weekly rate is established, that figure is locked in for as long as you are totally disabled (unable to work). Your weekly workers’ comp. rate is based on your “average weekly wage,” which approximates your average earnings per week over the 52 weeks preceding your injury. Your average weekly wage is calculated a different way if you worked for your employer for less than 52 weeks at the time of your injury. Your average weekly wage will correspond to a weekly workers’ comp. rate, which ranges from 66.7% (2/3) to 90% of your average weekly wage. If you are a high wage earner (more than $1,621 per week), your rate will be less than 2/3 of your average weekly wage because there is a maximum weekly workers’ comp. rate in Pennsylvania. It is to your advantage, though, that your weekly workers’ comp. benefits will not be reduced by taxes, nor will you be required to report these benefits as taxable income.
Here is an example of how collecting workers’ comp. is not to your advantage due to your benefit rate being locked in. Let’s say that you injured yourself in February 2020, and your average weekly wage is calculated at $900, which translates to a $600 weekly benefits rate. If you are still disabled and on workers’ comp. in 2021, 2022 – even 2027 – your workers’ comp. rate will still be $600. There is not even a minimal cost-of-living adjustment which Social Security allows most years. If workers’ comp. provided for, say, a 2% cost-of-living adjustment each year (typical for Social Security), at least your workers’ comp. benefits would increase to $612 in 2021, $625 in 2022, and so forth. Is it unfair that the workers’ comp law does not provide for an increase in workers’ comp. benefits each year? Maybe so, but the law is so etched in stone, that it’s not going to change anytime soon. You may become more frustrated when you talk to your co-workers at the job who tell you that they will receive a raise in January – knowing that there will be no increase in your workers’ comp. benefits.
Depending on the seriousness of your injury, one thing to consider – and you’ll need an experienced workers’ comp. lawyer on your side if you want to go this route – is trying to reach a settlement of your claim in which you are paid a lump sum of money and your medical bills up until your settlement is approved, and then the insurance company doesn’t have to pay you any money or your medical bills in the future. The requirement that your medical bills for your work injury must be paid is another advantage for injured workers. That obligation continues as long as treatment that you receive is reasonable, necessary, and related to your work injury, and your claim remains open. If a Workers’ Compensation Judge finds that you have fully recovered from your work injury, then the insurance company is not required to cover your medical bills or pay you any money going forward.
If you’re on workers’ comp. but none of your doctors is telling you that you need surgery or any other serious treatment such as injections, and you feel like you have shown improvement with treatment, then it might be in your best interest to try to settle your case. That way, you can get as much money as you can in a lump sum, and if you need medical treatment in the future, you can put that through other health insurance – either health insurance that you have through your spouse, a policy that you purchase after your settlement, or state insurance if you qualify. (Sometimes, an insurance company will agree to keep the medical part of a claim open for a period of time in a workers’ comp. settlement, but it’s rare; normally, they insist that the injured worker sign off on the money and medical parts of the claim.) At some point after your settlement, you may decide that you are able to return to the work force and get back to earning annual raises. If you’re still feeling some aches and pains from your work injury, you may want to consider pursuing a less physically demanding job.
At Pearson Koutcher Law, a firm comprised of experienced, knowledgeable, and compassionate workers’ compensation lawyers, we will try to get you the best result in your case. If medical treatment is important to you indefinitely, we will fight to keep your claim open. If you are interested in a lump sum settlement so you can move on with your life, we will negotiate the best possible settlement on your behalf. We have obtained settlements for thousands of clients over the years, and we can do the same for you. We always have your best interests at heart because we understand that every person has a different case with different expectations. If you have been injured at work, please call Pearson Koutcher Law for a free, comprehensive consultation with one of our top lawyers.