Spine Impairment Ratings in North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Cases

Posted on Wednesday, August 24th, 2016 at 2:00 pm    

Medical impairment ratings are a way of assessing the severity of your work injury. They are used in cases where your injury is permanent as opposed to something that will heal in time. Doctors use various factors to determine the impairment rating that applies to your injury. Doctors can’t just pick a rating out of a hat. They need to justify their rating. That is why the North Carolina Industrial Commission provides guidelines for doctors. Doctors are required to use the guidelines to help them give the final rating/assessment of your injury.
An experienced North Carolina work injury lawyer is needed to help workers fight to get the correct rating. Attorney Joe Miller, who has helped thousands of injured workers for over a quarter century, understands the rating process. Click here to watch his video regarding permanency ratings. He works to let the doctor know all of your medical complaints and how they affect your ability to work. He reviews the medical reports for accuracy and thoroughness to help the doctor see your full medical problem.
One thing that is significant that should be noted: Unlike North Carolina, permanency ratings for the spine do NOT EXIST in Virginia. Ironically, in North Carolina, spinal impairment carries the highest potential number of weeks of impairment of any body part, namely, 300 weeks. The impairment ratings, which are expressed as percentage ratings, for the spine, pelvis, cervix, coccyx, and for ruptured lumbar (back) discs are as follows:

Cervical Spine

Please know that the statutes, as written, refer to the back, not the spine. When rating impairment to the spine, doctors should always refer to it as the back (percentage of the back, not percentage of the spine.)

CERVICAL SPINE FRACTURES
• Single, healed, with little or moderate anterior compression and without neurological findings
o Body = 10%
o and/or posterior elements—arch, transverse process (additional) = 5%
• Two or more vertebrae, each additional = 50% of above
• Add, for neurological
o Quadriplegia = 100% of man
o Nerve root, one arm, or both arms: Functional rating is added to cervical spine percentage.

CERVICAL DISC
• Anterior discectomy, with or without fusion—free of neck and arm pain—no weakness = 5%
• Postoperative—with recurrent episodes of significant cervical and arm pain associated with objective findings = 10-15%
• Posterior laminectomy—removal of ruptured disc—free of neck and arm pain—no weakness = 5%
• Postoperative—with recurrent episodes of significant cervical pain associated with objective findings = 10-15%

Thoracic Spine
• THORACIC SPINE FRACTURES (Treat As CERVICAL SPINE, A) (Correction, July 8, 2016)
• THORACIC DISC (rate as Ruptured Lumbar Disc)

Lumbar Spine
LUMBAR SPINE FRACTURES (including lower three dorsal vertebrae)
• One body = 10%
• and/or posterior elements (arch and/ or transverse process) = additional 5%
• (Two or more) = 50% of above
• Add for loss of motion
o Mild (0%-25% limitation) = 5%
o Moderate (25%-50% limitation) = 10%
o Marked (50% or more limitation) = 20%
• Add for neurological changes: (paraplegias are established)
o One or both legs, functional rating.
B. INVERTEBRAL DISC (rate as Ruptured Lumbar Discs)

*This Section clarified as of February 15, 2000*
What happens if you have more than one back injury?
If a claimant has two injuries to the back and has separate impairments, these ratings should be calculated separately and then combined. Do not add the percentages of impairment. A few examples follow:

FIRST EXAMPLE: 40% (A) & 20% (B)
• In this example, the first percentage of impairment, 40% (A) is subtracted from 100%.
o 100% – 40% = 60% (C)
• The second percentage of impairment 20% (B) is calculated from the remaining percentage (C), which in this case is 60%.
o 20% of 60% = 12% (D)
• The total percentage of impairment is the sum of 40% (A) plus 12% (D).
• 40% + 12% = 52% total percentage of impairment

SECOND EXAMPLE (When total exceeds 100%): 70% (A) and 40% (B)
• In this example, the first percentage of impairment 70% (A) is subtracted from 100%.
o 100% – 70% = 30% (C)
• The second percentage of impairment 40% (B) is calculated from the remaining percentage (C), which in this case is 30%.
o 40% of 30% = 12% (D)
• The total percentage of impairment is the sum of 70% (A) plus 12% (D).
• 70% + 12% = 82% total percentage of impairment
Pelvis (ate as percentage of spine unless acetabulum is involved)
• SYMPHYSIS SEPARATION = 10%
• ILIUM
o With pelvic ring intact = 0%
o With pelvic ring displaced 1″ or more = 10%
• ISCHIUM
o Healed, no deformity = 0%
o Healed, deformity and pain = 5-10%

• FRACTURED ACETABULUM-(evaluate on basis of hip disability-see hip section)
• PELVIC RING DISPLACED PLUS SACROILIAC JOINT DISPLACED (if leg shortening, add that) = 15%
Sacrum
• Healed, no pain = 0%
• Healed, with significant residual deformity = 10%
Coccyx
• Healed, no pain = 0%
• Healed, deformity and significant objective signs = 5-10%
• Excised (as above under healed fractures)

Ruptured Lumbar Discs

The following guide is suggested for use in rating of patients with ruptured lumbar discs from the standpoint of permanent partial impairment to the back, as recommended by the North Carolina Orthopaedic Society and the neurosurgeons of North Carolina:
• Typical episode of back and leg pain that completely recovers without neurological defect on conservative therapy = 0%
• Same as (1) with recurrent episodes of significant back pain associated with objective findings = 5-10%
• Postoperative-removal of ruptured disc-free of back and leg pain-no weakness = 5%
• Postoperative-with recurrent episodes of significant back pain associated with objective findings = 10-15%
• Postoperative-removal of ruptured disc and spinal fusion. Same as (3) = 25%
• Postoperative-removal of rupture disc and spinal fusion. Same as (4) = 25-30%

We should mention one final note on impairment ratings, which is also discussed in Joe Miller’s Video on impairment ratings. If your work injuries prevent you from returning to work, you should not really get too caught up in an analysis of the ratings. Unless you have at least two ratable body parts severely injured, the ratings are not going to be much of a factor in valuing your case. This is because you are limited to 500 weeks total TTD. The ratings cannot add to that total. So in most cases, if you are unable to return to work, the future potential TTD that you may draw is going to be far more significant than anything that a rating can provide you.

Make the Call to a Strong North Carolina Work Injury Advocate Today

The treating doctor is often one that is on a list of doctors chosen by the employer or the employer’s insurance company. To help this doctor make as objective a decision as possible, it helps to have an experienced North Carolina work injury lawyer on your side. An experienced lawyer explains to workers that they need to inform the doctor of all their complaints. The lawyer reviews the medical reports to see if the doctor is following the North Carolina Industrial Commission guidelines. For strong legal counsel phone North Carolina Workers’ Compensation attorney Joe Miller now at 888-667-8295 . You can also complete his contact form.