Scars, Disfigurement and Workers’ Compensation
Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law spells out in detail the circumstances under which a person may be entitled to benefits when they are disfigured. First, it must arise from a work-related injury. So if somebody has scars due to a motor vehicle accident that is found to be outside of the person’s course of employment, no money will be awarded for the scars.
Second, the disfigurement must be to a person’s head, face, or neck. Therefore, if a person suffers burns to their arms and legs which are clearly visible when he or she wears certain clothing (i.e,, blouse, shorts), the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act does not allow them to recover money for these burns even though they may be embarrassing. When creating this section of the law, the legislature decided that only disfigurement to the head, face, or neck warrant a monetary award.
Third, the disfigurement must be unsightly in appearance; in other words, it must be unpleasant to look at. The workers’ compensation judge makes this determination by observing the disfigurement at a hearing. The judge will make observations of the person close-up and at distances farther away to assess how noticeable the scar or burns are, and in so doing will make a statement about the size, color, depth, and other details about the disfigurement. The lawyer for the injured worker and the employer may also make comments about the disfigurement.
Fourth, the disfigurement must be permanent. The rule of thumb is if a scar is still present six months after the injury, it will not go away and has become permanent.
What if a person has a scar or burns but is able to work? The person remains entitled to receive money for their disfigurement, regardless of whether they are working or not, as long as the above elements have been met. The purpose of this section of the Workers’ Compensation Act is to compensate a person for their embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, and depression that they may experience because they have a scar or burn on the body parts which are most prominently displayed: the head, face, and neck.
How much money can a person receive for a disfigurement claim? The judge has the discretion to award between 0 and 275 weeks of benefits based on the person’s weekly compensate rate. That rate is based on the average weekly wage, which is calculated upon a formula that takes into account the person’s wages over the one-year period before the injury. A person’s compensation rate represents between two-thirds and ninety percent of the average weekly wage according to Pennsylvania workers’ compensation tables. Thus, if a person’s weekly compensation rate is $400, the judge has the discretion to award between $0 and $110,000 based on the unsightliness of the disfigurement. A person with horrible burns all over their face and neck may get awarded an amount on the upper end of the scale; a small scar on the forehead will likely result in a considerably lower award.
If you have been injured at work, and as a result have been disfigured – or even if you have not but your injuries prevent you from working and require medical attention – please contact Pearson Koutcher Law to discuss your case in detail with one of our very experienced workers’ compensation lawyers.
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