Finally, the workers’ compensation maximum weekly wage will be raised to $500. It had been stuck at $400 a week since 1992. This is the maximum wage for people who cannot work due to a workplace injury.
This is the good news. However, there is some bad news too.
For over a decade the insurance and business lobbies have sought to “reform” the laws to make New York more attractive and competitive for business. Their proposals have been dubbed “tort reforms” although in reality their changes would benefit business and hurt working people.
Against this “reform” effort labor leaders sought to raise the weekly maximum wage from $400 because a working person cannot survive on this paltry benefit while he is disabled from work. Business would agree to an increase only if certain concessions were given. Therefore, the increased wage was only possible in a compromise bill where workers had to “give-back” some benefits.
The Weekly Wage
The good news is that the maximum weekly wage will be raised to $500 for accidents on or after July 1, 2007.
Thereafter, the wage will be increased for accidents which occur after the following dates:
July 1, 2008–$550;
July 1, 2009–$600; and
July 1, 2010–2/3 of the state average wage so that it is expected to go to $650 per week with yearly increases to reflect increases in the average wage.
For example, an accident after July 1, 2007, carries a maximum weekly wage of $500. Accidents occurring from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009, carry a maximum wage of $550. A person injured on July 1, 2007, stays at the $500 wage level in future years, such as 2008, 2009, etc.
Permanent Partial Disability Limits
The bad news is that the new law limits the time that a person can collect benefits under “Permanent Partial Disability (“PPD”). Under the new law benefits will be limited from four to ten years for accidents occurring on or after July 1st. The Workers’ Compensation Board will decide how long a worker will receive PPD benefits.
The new law does not change PPD status for people injured before July 1st. Those people will continue to receive lifetime benefits (income and medical).
A person classified as PPD cannot work in his occupation. A classic example is a construction worker with chronic low back pain syndrome who can no longer do heavy labor. That person is partially disabled but may be capable of some work. In comparison, a person classified as “Permanent Total” cannot work at all in any sort of gainful employment. Workers classified as “Permanent Total” receive lifetime income and medical, and the new law does not change this.
As a result of this change, injured people classified as PPD may have to seek re-classification as “Permanent Total” to keep their benefits. This will be possible only where the employee’s condition has worsened and would be deemed a “Permanent Total” injury; this is a very high burden. The other alternative is to apply to the Workers’ Compensation Board toward the end of the ten year period for an extension of benefits. If the injured worker fails to get either re-classification or an extension of benefits, then he will be forced to get benefits through the public social services network, such as medicaid and welfare. If resort must be made to social services, welfare and medicaid benefits would be lower than those that would have given through workers’ compensation.
Limiting PPD benefits is a quick political solution that the business interests wanted and won. It is a shifting of the costs from the insurance industry to the government. This has been a nice gift to the insurance industry.
The new law will affect accidents occurring after July 1st. If you have any questions regarding these changes please contact our office by calling (800) 581-1434.
Questions From Our Clients
Q: I earned $1,200 a week as a carpenter, and I was injured on March 30, 2007. I am still out of work. I have been receiving the maximum weekly wage of $400. Will it go up to $500?
A: No, the maximum weekly lost income benefit is $400 because the accident occurred before July 1st. It is irrelevant that the worker is still disabled after July 1st.
Q: I was injured on the job on July 3, 2007, and I was working as a taxi dispatcher at a wage of $1,100 per week. I am now receiving $500 a week. If I were to be out of work by July 1, 2008, would my weekly benefit increase to $550?
A:No. The worker’s weekly wage maximum stays at $500. The increase to $550 is effective only for accidents occurring on or after July 1, 2008.
Q: I’m classified as PPD, and I have been receiving full benefits since my accident in 1996. Will the new limit of ten years for PPD affect me?
A: No. If you have already been classified as PPD, then you will continue to receive lifetime benefits. This change affects accidents on or after July 1, 2007. For people having work accidents on or after July 1st the maximum time that they can receive PPD benefits is ten years.
Q: Then what happens at the end of ten years?
A:The PPD classified worker ceases to receive any workers’ compensation benefits, i.e., income and medical.
Q: Can there be an exception or way to extend benefits beyond the ten years?
A: Yes. The PPD worker must apply to extend benefits before the ten years expires. It is unclear whether the Board will grant either short extensions (such as one year with a re-evaluation at the end of the year) or lifetime extensions. This will be determined in about ten years from now. Another possibility is seeking re-classification as “Total Disabled” which carries lifetime benefits. A re-classification will be difficult and should be available only where the employee’s condition has worsened to the extent that he cannot work at all.
If you have been in an accident and have lost wages, please call me at 800-581-1434 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark E. Seitelman, www.seitelman.com