Scarring, Permanent Loss of Function, and Disfigurement in Workers' Compensation Benefits

In the world of personal injury law and workers' compensation, there's a specific section that often goes unnoticed until the need arises. Section 36 of the Massachusetts workers' compensation law addresses serious injuries, particularly those involving scarring, permanent loss of function, and disfigurement. In this blog post, we will delve into the details of Section 36 benefits, discussing what they entail, the nature of the injuries they cover, and how they are determined.

Section 36 benefits are a distinct component of workers' compensation law, and they vary from state to state. The primary focus of Section 36 benefits is on injuries that leave a permanent mark on the worker. These injuries encompass scarring, permanent loss of function, and disfigurement. Unlike typical workers' compensation claims, Section 36 benefits apply to injuries with lasting consequences and require a six-month waiting period to ensure proper healing and a medical endpoint. These benefits are not a settlement but rather additional payments that compensate workers for the permanent impact of their injuries.  

Scarring is a common type of injury covered under Section 36. However, it's crucial to note that the law has evolved over the years. In 1991, the scope of scarring benefits was limited to scars on the face, neck, or hands. This limitation reflects the belief that visible scars in these areas can have a significant impact on a person's ability to find new employment, potentially leading to a reduction in earning capacity.  

Disfigurement, another aspect of Section 36 benefits, typically pertains to cases where a worker has sustained a permanent limp or requires the use of a cane on a permanent basis due to their work-related injury. The key requirement is that the injury must result in a permanent and observable physical impairment that has a lasting impact on the worker's life.

Loss of function, the third category of Section 36 benefits, comes into play when a worker experiences a permanent impairment in the functioning of a body part. This could be the loss of an eye or a limb that no longer functions as it should. Such injuries often result from surgical procedures, and the degree of loss of function is determined by doctors according to the American Medical Association (AMA) guidelines.

To claim Section 36 benefits, an injured worker must have completed all necessary medical treatment and reached a medical endpoint. These benefits are in addition to the weekly workers' compensation payments and are not meant to be seen as settlements.

Determining the extent of these injuries is the responsibility of medical professionals, mainly orthopedic surgeons, for physical injuries. Regulations and guidelines, such as the AMA guidelines, dictate how doctors assess permanent loss of function, scarring, and disfigurement. For scarring, doctors provide detailed reports including scar length, width, and discoloration, often accompanied by photographs of the scars.

As for the psychological impact of these injuries, workers' compensation law typically does not address it. While a worker may experience psychological distress due to their injuries, the law focuses on physical impairments and doesn't provide benefits for pain and suffering. However, if a psychological injury is associated with a work-related injury, the injured worker can seek referral to a psychiatrist or psychologist for appropriate treatment.

When it comes to cognitive function loss, there is a separate provision for language comprehension impairment, which could be considered a form of cognitive impairment. However, this is a complex area, and any impairment must be quantified as a percentage, which can be challenging to determine.

The specificity of workers' compensation benefits can sometimes seem inadequate, especially when injuries have a lasting impact on a worker's life. However, it's essential to understand that workers' compensation law has its limitations, and it doesn't provide benefits for pain and suffering or other non-physical damages. As attorneys, the task is to inform clients about the benefits the law offers and what it does not, ensuring they have a realistic understanding of the system.

Section 36 benefits play a crucial role in workers' compensation, addressing serious injuries that leave lasting scars, result in permanent loss of function, or cause disfigurement. While these benefits may seem limited, they provide financial support to workers who have experienced permanent, life-altering injuries. Understanding the intricacies of workers' compensation law is essential for both injured workers and the legal professionals who represent them.

If you or a loved one has been injured while working, the law firm of Pellegrini, Seeley, Ryan & Blakesley can assist with your workers’ compensation claim today.

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