INTRODUCTION TO PERMANENT PARTIAL DISABILITY IN OKLAHOMAMost serious injuries result in permanent disability. If an injured Oklahoma worker is completely unable to return to work following his or her healing period he or she would be considered permanently & totally disabled (“PTD”) by the Oklahoma City or Tulsa Workmen’s Comp Court. If, however, on the other hand, an injured Oklahoma worker following his or her medical treatment and the passage of time, can return to some form of part or full-time employment, but has permanent functional limitations, he or she is entitled to an award of monetary benefits from the Oklahoma or Tulsa Workmen’s Compensation Court for his or her permanent partial disability (“PPD”). Permanent Total Disability & Permanent Partial Disability benefits, awards or settlements are mutually exclusive, an individual worker cannot receive both in a single case.
The fact that an Oklahoma City or Tulsa area hurt employee has suffered a previous disability or impairment or received compensation benefits or settlements therefore shall not preclude the injured employee &/or his or her attorneys or lawyers from pursuing and receiving a permanent partial disability settlement and compensation for a later accidental personal injury or occupational disease–although the award may be reduced by the injured employee’s previous injury or disability and the settlements received therefor.
Plainly speaking, most injured workers, employers, insurance companies, attorneys and lawyers refer to permanent partial disability benefits as their “work comp settlement” received at the end of the case when they have fully recovered from any surgery or other medical treatment.
NECESSARY PROOF TO ESTABLISH PERMANENT PARTIAL DISABILITYThe ultimate determination of any injured worker’s permanent partial disability settlement is the responsibility of the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court, not the employee’s treating doctor. Furthermore–Any claim submitted to either the Oklahoma City or Tulsa Workman’s Comp Court by an injured employee &/or his or her attorneys or lawyers for an award of compensation or benefits for permanent partial disability or PPD must be supported by competent medical testimony. Any medical opinion submitted to the Workman’s Compensation Court by any party to the case, be it the employer, the insurance company, the injured worker, or any attorney or lawyer, must be supported by objective medical findings and evidence. All medical opinions must also include an evaluation by the physician or doctor stating his or her opinion of the injured employee’s percentage of permanent impairment and whether or not the impairment is job-related and caused by the accidental injury or occupational disease.
All Medical opinions and testimony submitted by any party or his or her attorney or lawyer and addressing compensability and permanent impairment must be stated within a reasonable degree of medical certainty to be admissible in either the Oklahoma City or Tulsa Workers Comp Court. Additionally, any medical opinion(s) concerning the existence or extent of permanent impairment must be supported by objective medical evidence of permanent anatomical abnormality, and, in appropriate cases, may include medical evidence that the ability of the injured Oklahoma City or Tulsa area employee to earn wages at the same level as before the injury has been permanently impaired.
TIMING OF PERMANENT PARTIAL DISABILITY AWARDS IN OKLAHOMAIn Oklahoma, PERMANENT PARTIAL DISABILITY, or ‘PPD’ awards or settlements are not made until an injured Oklahoma City or Tulsa area worker reaches a point of MAXIMUM MEDICAL IMPROVEMENT, or ‘MMI’. The Oklahoma City & Tulsa Workers Compensation Courts have determined that maximum medical improvement means that no further material improvement to the worker’s injury could reasonably be expected from medical treatment or the passage of time.
OKLAHOMA PERMANENT PARTIAL DISABILITY BENEFITS DEFINEDOklahoma law and the Oklahoma City and Tulsa Workmen’s Comp Court Rules have established that permanent partial disability or PPD is permanent disability that is less than total and is equal to or the same as the Oklahoma injured worker’s permanent impairment. In turn ‘permanent impairment’ has been defined in Oklahoma City & Tulsa Workmen’s Compensation Court as “any anatomical abnormality after maximum medical improvement has been achieved which abnormality or loss the physician considers to be capable of being evaluated at the time the rating is made”. All this is accomplished by the injured worker &/or his attorneys or lawyers putting before the Oklahoma City or Tulsa Workman’s Comp Court an impairment rating with supporting testimony and other evidence.
AMA GUIDES & EVALUATION OF PERMANENT PARTIAL DISABILITYOklahoma City & Tulsa Workman’s Compensation Court rules are strict regarding the submission of medical evidence, ratings and testimony of permanent partial disability and in most cases any impairment rating submitted by any party &/or his or her attorney or lawyer must be made in strict accordance with the proper publication of the American Medical Association’s “Guides to the evaluation of Permanent Impairment”, or “AMA Guides” or simply “the Guides”. All such evaluations, to be competent, probative and admissible by attorneys & lawyers, must include any apportionment of injury causation and supported by objective medical evidence. Simply put, with the exception of ‘SCHEDULED MEMBERS’, which are described below–any doctor’s evaluation of the extent of permanent impairment shall be prepared in compliance with the appropriate edition of the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment in effect on the date of the worker’s injury to be considered by either the Oklahoma City or Tulsa Work Comp Court.
PRE-EXISTING IMPAIRMENT & ADDITIONAL PERMANENT DISABILITYOklahoma City & Tulsa Workers Comp Court Rules provide that in the event there exists a previous impairment or disability, including a previous non-work-related injury or medical condition which produced permanent disability–and the same is aggravated or accelerated by an accidental personal injury or occupational disease compensable under the Oklahoma Workers Compensation law, compensation for permanent disability shall be only for such amount as was caused by such accidental personal injury or occupational disease and no additional compensation shall be allowed for the pre-existing disability or impairment. In other words the injured worker still receives a permanent settlement or award even if he or she has previously sustained permanent injury to the same body part at issue–however, any award will be reduced by either the Oklahoma City or Tulsa Workmen’s Comp Court by an amount which represents the injured employee’s disability as it existed immediately prior to the most recent injury for which compensation is being awarded.
SCHEDULED MEMBER & EXTREMITY INJURY PPD AWARDSSCHEDULED INJURIES (i.e. arms, elbow, wrists, hands, thumbs, fingers, legs, knees, ankles, feet, ankles, toes, eyes, & ears): It should initially be noted that under Oklahoma Workmen’s Compensation law any physician or doctor evaluating the permanent impairment or disability of an injured worker’s scheduled member or extremity injury for a permanent settlement or award does not have to follow either the current or a previous edition of the AMA GUIDES TO THE EVALUATION OF PERMANENT IMPAIRMENT or other similar rating guide or formula. However, any medical opinion offered into evidence by an attorney or lawyer during a trial at either the Oklahoma City or Tulsa Workman’s Comp Court on the issue of the permanent disability of an injured employee’s scheduled injury must contain the doctor’s opinion at to the percentage loss to the worker’s extremity or member stated as a percentage compared to the full use of the body part. Once the Tulsa Workman’s Compensation Court has determined and otherwise fixed the percentage of partial loss of use of an injured worker’s member such worker will receive and be awarded seventy percent (70%) of the employee’s average weekly wage during that portion of the number of weeks in the foregoing schedule provided for the loss of such member which the partial loss of use thereof bears to the total loss of use of such member:
• THUMB: For the loss of thumb, sixty-six (66) weeks.
• FIRST FINGER: For the loss of the first finger, commonly called the index finger, thirty-nine (39) weeks.
• SECOND FINGER: For the loss of a second finger, thirty-three (33) weeks.
• THIRD FINGER: For the loss of a third finger, twenty-two (22) weeks.
• FOURTH FINGER: For the loss of a fourth finger, commonly called the little finger, seventeen (17) weeks.
• GREAT TOE: For the loss of a great toe, thirty-three (33) weeks.
• OTHER TOES: for the loss of one of the toes other than the great toe, eleven (11) weeks.
NOTE: The loss of the first phalange of the thumb, finger or any toe shall be considered by the Tulsa Work Comp Court as equal to the loss of one-half (1/2) of such thumb, finger or toe, and compensation shall be one-half (1/2) of the amount above specified; the loss of more that one phalange shall be considered as the loss of the entire thumb, finger or toe; provided, however, that in no case shall the amount received for more than one finger exceed the amount provided in this schedule for the loss of a hand.
• HAND: For the loss of a hand, two hundred twenty (220) weeks.
• ARM: For the loss of an arm, two hundred seventy-five (275) weeks.
• FOOT: For the loss of a foot, two hundred twenty (220) weeks.
• LEG: For the loss of a leg, two hundred seventy-five (275) weeks.
NOTE: Loss of Use: Permanent loss of use of a thumb, finger, toe, arm, hand, foot, leg or eye shall be considered by the Tulsa Workers Comp Court as the equivalent of the loss of such thumb, finger, toe hand, arm, foot, leg or eye.
NOTE: Amputations: Amputation between the elbow and the wrist shall be considered by the Tulsa Workers Compensation Court as the equivalent of the loss of a hand. Amputation between the knee and the ankle shall be considered as the loss of a foot. Amputation at or above the elbow shall be considered as the loss of an arm. Amputation at or above the knee shall be considered as the loss of a leg.
OKLAHOMA ‘WHOLE PERSON’ IMPAIRMENT & ‘OTHER CASES’ AWARDSNON-SCHEDULED SETTLEMENTS, WHOLE PERSON DISABILITY, WHOLE BODY SETTLEMENT, WHOLE MAN IMPAIRMENT, & ‘OTHER CASES’ AWARDS [i.e. back, neck, spine, cervical, lumbar, shoulder, head (including psychological overlay, depression, closed-head injury & traumatic brain injury), face, torso, lung and other internal organ injuries] In all other classes of disabilities, excluding only those scheduled members & extremity injuries referred to above, which disabilities result in loss of use of any portion of an injured Oklahoma City or Tulsa employee’s body, and which disabilities are partial in character but permanent in quality, disability shall mean the percentage of permanent impairment. The compensation ordered paid by the Oklahoma City or Tulsa Workmen’s Comp Court will be seventy percent (70%) of the injured employee’s average weekly wage for the number of weeks which the partial disability of the employee bears to five hundred (500) weeks.
NOTE: The Oklahoma City & Tulsa Workman’s Compensation Court by rule states that for the purpose of making physical or anatomical impairment ratings to the spine, physicians shall use criteria established by the AMA Guides or modifications thereto as approved by the Oklahoma legislature.
Please follow the following link to view the Current Oklahoma Workers Comp Court’s PPD rate chart for non-scheduled settlements: PPD CHARTS
MAXIMUM & MINIMUM WEEKLY PAYMENTS FOR PPD AWARDSUnder Oklahoma law, an injured Oklahoma City or Tulsa area worker will receive a statutory minimum weekly permanent partial disability benefit check of One Hundred Fifty Dollars ($150.00), regardless of how low the injured worker’s pre-injury wage rate and even if his or her average weekly wage would justify a wage rate of much less. On the other hand, no matter how large an injured Oklahoma employee’s pre-injury earnings and his stated wage rate, under current Oklahoma City & Tulsa Work Comp Court rules the maximum weekly rate for permanent partial disability benefits, regardless of the worker’s income, is Three Hundred Twenty-Three Dollars ($323.00) per week.
MAXIMUM LIMITS ON PERMANENT PARTIAL DISABILITY SETTLEMENTSThe Oklahoma City & Tulsa Workers Compensation Courts have placed the following limits upon the total amount of benefits an injured worker can receive for permanent partial disability or PPD:
• the sum of all Oklahoma workman’s comp permanent partial disability settlements, excluding awards against the Multiple Injury Trust Fund & any settlement for amputation(s) and surgeries, cannot exceed one hundred percent (100%) permanent partial disability for any one injured employee
• an injured Oklahoma City or Tulsa area worker may not receive more than five hundred twenty (520) weeks compensation for permanent partial disability, but may receive other benefits under the Oklahoma Workmen’s Compensation Act if otherwise eligible as provided in the Act
• no payments on any workman’s comp permanent impairment order shall start until payments on any pre-existing permanent impairment orders or settlements have been completed
LUMP SUM CASH SETTLEMENTS OF PERMANENT PARTIAL AWARDSAll awards by either the Oklahoma City or Tulsa Workers Comp Court are by law to be paid in periodic installments as determined by the court. However, whenever an injured employee receives an award for permanent partial disability the hurt worker or claimant &/or his attorneys or lawyers, for good cause shown, may have the award commuted to a lump sum cash settlement by permission of either the Oklahoma City or Tulsa Workers Compensation Court.
CHILD SUPPORT LIENS & PERMANENT PARTIAL SETTLEMENTS/AWARDSThe Oklahoma City & Tulsa Work Comp Courts will enforce a lien against an injured employee’s Oklahoma Workmen’s Compensation for the purposes of enforcing a judgment for child support. Child support liens and income & wage assignments for child support issued filed in accordance with the Oklahoma statutes are specifically authorized and must be paid by the hurt worker &/or his or her attorney or lawyer in accordance with such laws even without any order of the Oklahoma City or Tulsa Workmen’s Comp Court.
An independent medical examiner in a case involving permanent disability shall not be a treating physician of the employee and shall not have treated the employee with respect to the injury for which the claim is being made or the benefits are being paid. The impairment rating determined by the Independent Medical Examiner shall be based upon objective medical evidence.
NOTE: Benefits for an injury shall be determined by the law in effect at the time of injury.