Permanent and Temporary Workers' Comp Benefits in Colorado
Here's how your workplace injury will be rated and paid under Colorado's workers' comp system.
If you are injured or become ill at work in Colorado, in addition to having your medical care paid for by workers' comp, you have the right to be compensated for part of the wages you are losing due to your inability to work. (For information about filing a claim, see our article on eligibility and filing for workers' comp in Colorado.)
Temporary Disability Benefits in Colorado
You are eligible to begin receiving temporary compensation benefits after you have missed more than three shifts or more than three days of work as a result of your work-related injury. You will be paid for the first three days of missed work only if you are out of work for at least two weeks.
If you are completely unable to work, you will be paid Temporary Total Disability. If your disability prevents you from working full-time but you are able to do some work, then you can receive Temporary Partial Disability benefits. If you are able to work full-time, but not at your usual duties, you may also be eligible for Temporary Partial Disability payments.
Temporary benefits continue until one of the following happens:
- You’re able to work full-time at your regular job again.
- Your treating doctor says you are able to work at a "modified" job and your employer offers you a suitable job.
- Your doctor finds that you have stabilized and further medical treatment will not improve your condition (this is called “maximum medical improvement”).
You will be paid two-thirds of your average weekly wage up to the maximum amount permitted. For 2014, the maximum amount you can receive is $881.65 per week.
Permanent Disability Payments in Colorado
If your injury is permanent, you are entitled to receive additional compensation, after your temporary payments have ended. Your doctor will decide if you have a permanent injury and will rate your impairment based on the American Medical Association Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, 3rd edition. In some cases, your doctor may refer you to another medical provider who will rate your impairment.
Note that you can sometimes be compensated for a pre-existing condition (whether work-related or not) made worse by the work related injury, but only to the extent it was made worse.
Rates of Pay for Impairment
Payments for permanent disability (PD) are intended to compensate you for the loss of function you have suffered. Only if you are totally disabled -- permanently unable to work again -- will you also be compensated for lost earning capacity.
Your impairments will be rated by your doctor based on how much they impact your ability to work. The more the impairment interferes with your ability to work, the greater the compensation.
For 2014, the maximum amount you can receive if your injury is rated at 25% or less is $81,435.67. For that same time period, the maximum allowable amount for an injury rated over 25% is $162,869.28.
Permanent Partial Disability
Colorado's workers' comp system uses different ways of rating your injury depending on the type of injury.
A "scheduled impairment" is a loss of function to feet, toes, hands, fingers, arms, eyes, ears or teeth. The doctor will give you a rating on these scheduled impairments that will be based on the degree of function you have lost and how much the loss of function interferes with your ability to work and earn wages.
Scheduled impairments are compensated by different numbers of weeks of compensation. For example, the loss of an arm at the shoulder entitles a worker to 208 weeks of permanent disability compensation. The loss of a hand below the wrist will get you 104 weeks of compensation, and complete deafness in both ears 139 weeks. A worker losing a big toe can receive from 9 to 26 weeks of PD payments, depending on which joint the toe was lost at.
Payment for Disfigurement
Scars on a part of the body that are visible, such as on the face or arms, are eligible for additional compensation up to approximately $4,673. For certain severe disfigurements, such as burn scars on the face or other severe facial scars, or complete or partial loss of a limb, a maximum payment of up to $9,345 is available.
Whole Person Impairment
A “whole person impairment” is any permanent loss of function that is not a loss of any of the functions discussed above. It can include mental impairments or an injury to the spine or lungs or any other body part. Unlike scheduled impairments, discussed above, whole person impairments do not have a set number of weeks for which payment will be made. Instead, your doctor will evaluate the severity of the loss of function and rate your disability on that basis.
Permanent Total Disability
If your doctor finds that you will be unable to ever work again due to a permanent and total disability, you may be eligible to receive lifetime workers’ compensation benefits to compensate for your inability to earn wages. You should be aware, however, that any Social Security or other disability pension you receive may reduce the amount you will receive in workers’ compensation benefits. (See our article on the workers' comp offset for more information.)
Getting Permanent Disability Benefits in a Lump Sum
If you are awarded permanent disability benefits on the basis of a partial disability, such as for a scheduled impairment, disfigurement, or whole person impairment, you have the right to receive the benefits as a lump-sum payment of up to $10,000. You can also request multiple lump-sum payments of $10,000 up to a total of $60,000.
If you take lump-sum payments, your award will get reduced by 4% a year. The Claims Management Unit will run calculations for you to see whether a lump sum payment makes sense. Call the Customer Service Unit for assistance. This may be something worthwhile to discuss with an attorney.
Caution: If you request to receive lump sums for more than $10,000, you will be waiving the right to appeal your impairment rating. It is inadvisable to do this without first consulting with a workers' comp attorney.
If You Disagree With Your Permanent Disability Rating or Award
If you believe you are not being properly compensated for your injury or illness and you disagree with the rating your doctor has provided, you have the right to request an independent medical opinion. You may wish to have an attorney assist you with this.
Likewise, you have the right to appeal other decisions made regarding your case, such as whether you are totally and permanently disabled, or whether you are receiving the correct amount of bi-weekly cash benefits.
For more information, see our article on appealing a workers' comp denial in Colorado.
You have the right to get an attorney to assist you. An initial consultation with a workers' comp attorney must be free, so it makes sense to go to one. You can use Nolo's attorney directory to find a workers' comp lawyer in your area.
Colorado workers' compensation attorneys are not permitted to charge you a fee directly. The attorney will be paid a percentage of your workers' comp insurance award if you are awarded benefits.