Impairment award diminishes worker's permanent total disability award
State of Wyoming v. Singer, No. S-10-0064 (Wyo. 03/30/11).
Ruling: The Wyoming Supreme Court held that a worker's permanent total disability award should be reduced by the amount he received in permanent partial impairment benefits.
What it means: In Wyoming, a permanent total disability award may be reduced by a worker's previous impairment award.
A worker sustained a work-related injury and received benefits. He had a 30 percent whole body permanent partial impairment and he accepted a permanent partial impairment award. The next year, he received a permanent partial disability award as a result of the same injury. Five years later, the worker was awarded permanent total disability due to the progression of his injury. The Workers' Safety and Compensation Division reduced the PTD award by the amount of the previous PPD and impairment awards. The worker objected to the deduction for his impairment award. The Wyoming Supreme Court held that the PTD award should be reduced by the previous permanent partial impairment award.
A permanent partial impairment award is a prerequisite to a PPD award, so the division asserted the prior impairment award was involved in the determination of PTD. The court said it was "difficult to disagree" with the division's conclusion. The worker argued that only prior disability awards should be deducted from PTD and not impairment awards. In construing the legislative intent of the law, the court said the deduction is to prevent a double recovery of benefits to the injured worker.
The court noted that impairment refers to physical loss associated with an injury while disability refers to economic loss associated with an injury. The worker contended that the distinction was important. The court, however, pointed out that a PTD award includes benefits for both disability and impairment.
The court declined to determine whether the legislature intended that a prior impairment award should be deducted in every case.
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May 2, 2011
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