Comp 101: New York Workers' Compensation settlements

Background

Under the New York Workers’ Compensation Law, there are four types of benefits available to an injured worker:

  1. Medical treatment. Emergency and follow-up treatment for their injuries.
  2. Wage compensation for earnings lost while they recover from the immediate effects of their injury.
    • This wage compensation is called “temporary total” with the claimant is 100% totally temporarily disabled (cannot work at all) OR
    • “Partial temporary” when the claimant can do some work – but isn’t earning their prior level of wages (usually because they can only work part time or have to work at a job that pays less than the work they were doing at the time of the accident). This is calculated as 2/3rds of the difference between old wages and post-accident wages.
  3. Death benefits payable to the dependents (usually wife and kids) of a worker killed during the course of employment. This is 2/3rds of their average weekly wage at the time of injury, subject to maximums and minimums, to the wife for life.
  4. “Permanency” benefits – these are payments of money to injured worker to compensate them for the “permanent effects” of an accident.

With rare exception, our settlements will focus on resolutions regarding the amount of “permanent disability” that a claimant is due.
 
The amount of permanent disability – the money award at a claimant gets when he has reached maximum medical improvement – is set by statute.
 
The statute envisions two types of permanent disability compensation:

  1. “Scheduled loss of use” which relates to injuries to body parts which are listed on this “scheduled loss of use chart” which is attached to this document. This is a fixed amount of compensation for injuries to fingers, toes, hands, feet, arms, ankles, knees, etc.  In other words, the Workers Compensation Law states that if you lose your thumb in accident, you get a fixed benefit – a number of weeks of compensation times your weekly rate – which is determined by the injury.
  2. The second type of permanent disability award is called a “classified award” or sometimes it is called a “classification.” This term “classification” doesn’t really mean anything – it just means you sustained injury to a body part which is not specifically described on the “scheduled loss of use chart.” For example, injuries to the head, neck, and low back are considered “classifiable” injuries – and they are compensated in terms of a fixed number of weeks – up to 600 weeks.

Example.

If I made $200 per week and I lose my thumb, according to the scheduled loss of use chart, I would be entitled to 100% loss of the thumb – 75 weeks of compensation. This would be paid at a rate equivalent to 2/3rds (66.6%) of my average weekly wage – or approximately $133.34 per week (two thirds of $200 per week). So in this example, the loss of my thumb would give rise to an award of $10,000 for permanent disability. The other benefit I would get would be medical treatment for life in regards to the lost thumb.
 
Imagine if I sustained an injury to my low back.
 
Assume that the treating and examining physicians all agreed that I was left with a 25% permanent residual impairment. My award would be 2/3rds of my average weekly wage times 25% of 600 weeks (the maximum number of weeks for classifiable injury). So, the award would be $133.34 times 150 weeks of compensation or $20,000.
 
Any amounts already paid to me – the claimant – during the claim for my lost waged – for example, if I lost a few weeks from work – would be subtracted from the overall award.

 Often, there is not a simple agreement between the parties as to the extent and nature of the claimant’s residual permanent disability. In such a case, we will often have a trial. During the pendency of the trial both parties have the opportunity to present their own witnesses – usually medical witnesses who claim that the injured worker is either completely and totally disabled (the claimant’s doctors) or is absolutely fine and ready for the Olympics (our IME doctors).
 
If the parties can reach a settlement before the judge reaches his conclusion regarding permanent disability – we can stipulate to an overall resolution. That settlement can be handled a number of different ways. What follows is a description of the three ways in which settlements are typically resolved.
 

Settlements

The main difference between these ways of settlement is whether or not the settlement is “full and final” – that means the claimant can never come back into court and alleged that his condition has worsened and now needs more compensation – and whether or not the employer/carrier remains liable to provide future medical benefits to the claimant should the condition worsen or should the claimant require additional medical treatment.
 
As medical treatment costs are now driving workers compensation claims (the employers and carriers are seeking to minimize medical treatment costs) a settlement in which the medical treatment aspects are closed (a “full and final settlement with closed medical”) is the preferred way for a carrier/player to resolve workers compensation case.
 

  1. Lump-sum dismissals – everything gets closed.

     This is often referred to as a “section 32” settlement after the section of the statute which allows for this type of settlement. This is the preferred way for employer/carrier to close a case. In this type of settlement, the claimant is paid one lump sum – usually agreed upon between the parties and usually a whole number – for example, $50,000 – to resolve all issues. The claimant loses the right to reopen this claim should his condition worsened. The claimant loses the right to seek additional medical treatment which must be paid for by the employer/carrier. The claimant is responsible for paying his own attorney’s fee – usually 15% of any settlement – directly to his attorney.

    A section 32 settlement must be approved by a judge of compensation. There are number of forms which must be completed and submitted to the court for settlement of this type to take place. Addiitonally, consideration of Medicare’s potential future interest must be made – in many cases, a set-aside allocation should be considered.
     
    These forms are:
     

    1. C–32 settlement form.
    2. C–32.1 settlement form
    3. A–9 form.
    4. An addendum document, explaining that the claimant’s right further compensation is waived, that medicals are closed, and laying out any other particular aspects of the proposed settlement.
    5. A further correspondence must be sent to the office of Child support enforcement seeking a statement that the claimant does not know any child support payments in the state of New York. This should be simply sent to the Office of Child Support Enforcement – and does not have to be submitted to the workers compensation board except as a copy.
  2. Lump-sum dismissals – medical stays open.

    This is still a “section 32” settlement with the only aspect of the case that is closed is the amount and nature of the claimant’s permanent residual disability. In other words, we our paying the claimant a lump sum for the amount of permanent impairment to the body part injuries the accident.  The claimant is also giving up the right to reopen the case – he can never come into court and say’s condition has worsened and he needs more compensation for increased impairment. However, the carrier remains “responsible” for additional medical treatment should the claimant’s condition worsen and require additional care. In this type of settlement, Medicare’s potential future insterest does not have to be considered – medical stays open and so the claimant can come back to the medical carrier for any necessary treatment.
     
    The specific forms which must be filed in this case are the same as the lump-sum dismissal of all claims (above at one).
     

    1. C–32 settlement form.
    2. C–32.1 settlement form
    3. An addendum document, explaining that the claimant’s right further compensation is waived, that medicals are closed, and laying out any other particular aspects of the proposed settlement.
    4. A further correspondence must be sent to the office of Child support enforcement seeking a statement that the claimant does not know any child support payments in the state of New York. This should be simply sent to the office of Child support enforcement – and does not have to be submitted to the workers compensation board except as a copy.

     

  3. Stipulated settlement

    – classification or scheduled loss of use with medical staying open. In this case, we are stipulating to the fact that the claimant has a residual permanent impairment to a “scheduled” body part or to a body part which is “classified.” In this case, we complete form 300.5 S completely as possible – describing the injuries, the percentage of permanent pyramid, and all necessary particular facts to establish the award – which will include the average weekly wage of the claimant. In this type of stipulated settlement, we will be granted credit for payments of temporary total or temporary partial wage continuation benefits which were issued during the pendency of the case – while the claimant recovered.
     

Have any questions about settling claims in New York? Contact Greg Lois.

Greg Lois is the managing partner of LOIS LLC and dedicates his practice to defending employers and carriers in New York and New Jersey workers' compensation claims. Greg is the author of a popular series of "Handbooks" on workers' compensation, and is the co-author of the 2016 & 2017 Lexis-Nexis New Jersey Workers' Compensation Practice Guide. Greg can be reached at 201-880-7213 or glois@loisllc.com