Types of Workers’ Compensation

There are a large number of different situations in which a work-related injury can negatively impact a person’s life. Immediate medical bills must be paid. If the employee’s injury makes them unable to work at all or full-time, they will have lost wages and maybe even permanent loss of earning capacity. In each of these situations, workers’ compensation can provide valuable and necessary benefits to the injured employee.

In North Carolina, workers’ compensation benefits cover 1) the injured employee’s medical bills and 2) disability payments to compensate for lost wages and/or earning capacity, and 3) when applicable, death benefits to the employee’s surviving family and dependents. Here, we will discuss the four main types of disability benefits under workers’ comp in North Carolina: temporary partial disability, temporary total disability, permanent partial disability, permanent total disability, and death benefits.

Timeline and Types, Explained
  • Temporary disability under workers’ comp provides payments to the injured worker throughout their healing period if they have to miss any work. There is a seven (7) day waiting period to receive temporary disability in NC, but once the person misses 21 days of work they will also receive paid benefits for the seven day waiting period. The rates and periods of compensation for temporary disability are governed by N.C.G.S. 97-31, subject to a 500-week maximum unless the person can prove they are still disabled beyond that point.
    1. Temporary partial disability: If their injury is “partial,” meaning that their loss of use to that body part is less than total and/or they are able to return to some types of paid work but making less than before, the disability amount will be adjusted for the difference between their average weekly wages at the time of the accident and their current wages. Temporary partial disability is calculated at two-thirds of the difference in their wages.
    2. Temporary total disability: Available when the workers’ injury prevents them from working at all for a non-permanent period of time. This is calculated at two-thirds of their average weekly wage at the time of the accident.
  • Permanent partial disability is paid when the employee has completed their healing period and reached what is called Maximum Medical Improvement, but still has impairment on one of the body parts listed under N.C.G.S. 97-31. These are called “scheduled injuries” and are presumed to be disabling even if the person does suffer any wage loss. This is the one type of workers’ comp in North Carolina where you do not have to prove an actual loss of wages or earning capacity in order to receive the benefit. Permanent partial disability is calculated at two-thirds of the workers’ average weekly wages at the time of the accident or illness, in proportion to the disability rating a doctor assigns the affected body part after the person has reached Maximum Medical Improvement. For example, if the doctor deems that you have a disability rating of 20 percent to your foot, this means that foot only has 80 percent functionality. You would be able to receive 20 percent of two-thirds of your average weekly wages. These payments continue for the amount of time set forth for that body part in the statutory schedule (N.C.G.S. 97-31), also in proportion to the disability rating. For example, total loss of use of a foot is scheduled to receive 144 weeks of compensation. If your disability rating was 20 percent, you would be able to receive these payments for 20 percent of 144 weeks, or 28.8 weeks.
  • Permanent total disability under workers’ comp is governed by N.C.G.S. 97-29. A person will only qualify for lifetime disability benefits for one of the following physical or mental limitations from their injury:
    1. Spinal injury involving severe paralysis of the trunk, both arms, or both legs
    2. Severe closed head or brain injury evidenced by severe and permanent:
      • Sensory or motor problems
      • Communication problems
      • Neurological disorder
      • Other problems with cerebral function
    3. Second or third-degree burns on over 33 percent of the body
    4. Loss of any two of the following body parts: hand, arm, foot, leg, or eye
      • Injuries under #4 qualify a person to receive lifetime compensation regardless of whether or not they can eventually return to work in some capacity.

This article serves as an introduction to the different types of workers’ compensation benefits available in North Carolina, but the laws and procedures surrounding workers’ comp can be complex. Denied applications can be appealed through the NC Industrial Commission and our state courts. If you or your family are potentially eligible for workers’ comp it is important to speak with an experienced workers’ comp attorney to understand your rights and receive help with the application or appeals process. Arnold & Smith, PLLC is an aggressive civil and criminal litigation firm in Charlotte and Mooresville, North Carolina that handles workers’ compensation and personal injury claims. Contact us today for an initial consultation about your claim.

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