Posted on Tuesday, December 15th, 2020 at 9:52 am
When you’ve been hurt at work, there comes a time when continuing to treat with your doctors doesn’t improve your medical condition. When additional medical treatments won’t improve your medical condition and the healing process is stopped – you’ve reached the point of Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI).
This does not mean that you no longer require medical treatment such as pain management. It just means that according to the opinions of your doctors, you are unlikely to improve your permanent outlook with additional treatment.
Workers have the right to get medical treatment for any injuries they suffer due to a workplace accident. Most workers start with a visit to an emergency room doctor or they see a physician designated by the workers compensation insurance company, or in some cases, their personal physician. Depending on the type of injury and the severity of the injury, injured workers may need surgery. They often need to see a specialist; maybe several specialists to address their work injuries. Injured employees often treat with physical therapists, occupational therapists, and/or rehabilitation therapists. Some workers also need to see a psychologist and/or psychiatrist.
Employees who are injured at work who suffer a compensable claim have every right to try to maximize their health and minimize the consequences of their injury at work. During the time they are working to improve their health, they are entitled to have the insurance company for the employer pay their medical bills and generally, 2/3rds of their average weekly wages for the time their authorized physician holds them out of work or for a maximum of up to 500 weeks. Some injuries completely heal with time – such as many minor fractures. Other injuries never completely heal and may require the insertion of hardware or other drastic methods of repair.
Maximum medical improvement is an important milestone in an injured worker’s case for a number of reasons:
When workers reach MMI, several evaluations need to take place.
An example of a permanent partial disability/impairment is the loss of function of a hand. An impairment rating is an assignment of the severity of that loss of hand such as 90%. This means you’ve lost 90% of the function of your hand. If you are entitled to permanent disability benefits, the amount of the benefits (a specific number of weeks such as the maximum of 200 weeks for the hand– what North Carolina law permits) is multiplied by the impairment rating. So, if you would normally be entitled to 200 weeks for a permanent disability and you have a 90% impairment rating, you will be entitled to 90% of 200 – or 180 weeks. Note that this is NOT in addition to any weeks you remain out of work.
If, on the other hand, you have returned to work at a job at or higher than your pre-injury wages, and you have been determined to have a permanent partial disability and an impairment rating, then the number of weeks as determined by that percentage, plus your future potential medical treatment would be the basis of your attorney considering and possibly negotiating a lump-sum settlement (called a clincher agreement in North Carolina). In a lump-sum settlement, you’re a negotiated portion of what potentially is due to you in the future (the 2/3rds’ wages and medical bills) in one payment to you, so you control the money. The risk, of course, is that there is no do-over if your medical bills are more than you anticipated. On the other side, the risk to the insurance company is that you will, in fact, get better, require little further treatment, and find a good job on your own, in which case would not have ended up paying you what they paid out in settlement.
An experienced work injury lawyer will advise you about the pros and cons of a lump-sum settlement in your particular circumstance.
It’s important to understand that you are still entitled to seek medical help – after you reach MMI – and to have the employer pay for that medical care. The key requirement is that the medical care must be needed to help ensure your medical condition doesn’t worsen. Many patients, for example, who have chronic back pain due to their workplace injury need pain management or orthopedic maintenance so their back pain doesn’t get worse.
You should also understand that if you are in an accepted claim or under an Award, the burden to switch from temporary total disability benefits to permanent partial disability benefits, or from temporary total disability benefits to a termination of benefits, is on the employer.
North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer Joe Miller Esq. understands that many employers try to push workers to return to work before they’re healthy. He works with your doctors and independent doctors to help assess your medical difficulties and concerns. When you reach maximum medical improvement, he also works to assist your doctors in determining whether you have a permanent partial or full disability as you look to your future. To discuss your worker’s compensation case, call attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295. or fill out our online contact form to schedule an appointment. You can also fill out our New Electronic Case Review. It’s a new way we’re offering so workers can contact us remotely.