Illinois Workers' Comp: Injured Workers' Rights to Permanent Disability Payments

If you suffered a work injury in Illinois and have not recovered completely from the injury or illness, you may be eligible for permanent disability benefits through the Illinois workers’ compensation system. Illinois requires employers to pay permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits to an injured worker who has suffered some type of impairment or disfigurement but is able to work in some capacity. Permanent total disability (PTD) benefits are paid to an employee who is completely and permanently unable to work.

Permanent Partial Disability Benefits

If you have lost the use, or partial use, of a body part, such as a hand, leg, eye, or ear, or you have lost partial use of your body as a whole, meaning that you can’t do the same things you could do before your injury, you have the right to permanent disability benefits. But before a determination can be made as to whether you should receive benefits, you must have finished healing. In workers’ comp terms, you must have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI), which means your doctor does not expect you to improve beyond your recovery so far.

Once it’s established that you’ve reached MMI, your employer and/or the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (known as IWCC, or simply, the Commission) can begin to assess your entitlement to permanent disability benefits. The IWCC has come with four different ways to calculate permanent disability benefits, known as:

  • wage differential
  • scheduled injury
  • percentage of loss of a person as a whole, and
  • disfigurement.

Wage Differential

If you had to switch jobs due to physical impairments caused by your work-related injury or illness, and the new job pays less than your pre-injury job, you’re entitled to receive a wage differential. You’re entitled to two-thirds (66 2/3%) of the difference between the amount you earn in your new job and the amount you would have been earning from your old job. The maximum wage differential you can receive is the state average weekly wage (SAWW), which is subject to a maximum ($930.39 in 2011). (Up-to-date benefits amounts can be found at (www.iwcc.il.gov/benefits.htm).) Note that you aren’t allowed to collect both a wage differential and a permanent disability award (discussed below).

Scheduled Injury

Alternately, you can collect a weekly permanent disability payment based on 60% of your average weekly wage (AWW). Illinois law sets a number of weeks of compensation for about 25 specific body parts. You multiply the number of weeks for the body part by 60% of your AWW to come up with your permanent partial disability benefit.

Part of Body Number of Weeks Paid
Hand 205
Thumb 76
Index finger 43
Middle finger 38
Ring finger 27
Pinky finger 22
Arm 253
Arm amputated above elbow 270
Arm amputated at shoulder joint 323
Foot 167
Big Toe 38
Any non-big toe 13
Leg 215
Leg amputated above knee 242
Leg amputated at hip joint 296
Loss of sight in one eye 162
Loss of one eye 173
Hearing loss in one ear due to occupational disease 100
Hearing loss in one ear due to accident or trauma 54
Loss of hearing in both ears 215
Kidney, spleen, or lung removal 10
Loss of one testicle 54
Loss of both testicles 162
Skull fracture 6 (min.)
Fracture of facial bone 2 (min.)
Fracture of a vertabra 6 (min.)
Fracture of spine or transverse process 3 (min.)

 

Example: You were making $600 per week when you lost complete use of one hand. You would multiply 205 weeks (the number of weeks for the loss of one hand) times 60% of your AWW, or $360, to come up with a permanent disability benefit of $73,800.

However, you get 100% of the number of weeks only if you have lost total use of that body part. With a partial loss of that body part, such as 50%, you would get that percentage of the number of weeks. Note that loss of a digit beyond the first joint of the finger or toe is considered 100% loss of the digit. Anything less is considered a 50% loss.

Example: You were making $800 per week when you lost the tip of one thumb (considered a 50% loss). You would multiply 38 (76, the number of weeks for the loss of one thumb, divided by 2) weeks by 60% of your AWW, or $480, to come up with a benefit of $18,240.

Loss of Percentage of Person as a Whole

Also called the nonscheduled injury method, this method is used when your condition is not listed as a scheduled injury in the table above. If your work-related injury has caused permanent limitations to the use of your body, you can use this method.

Considering your age, occupation, skill, limitation of motion, pain, and inability to perform certain tasks, the Commission will evaluate your physical impairment and the effect of your disability on your life and come up with a percentage for your loss of a person as a whole. You then multiply the percentage of person as a whole that you have lost by 500 weeks to come up with the number of weeks of permanent disability payments you are entitled to. Then you multiply the number of weeks by 60% of your average weekly wage (AWW).

Example: You were making $700 per week when you suffered a severe repetitive stress injury (RSI) due to overuse of a computer keyboard. The Commission rates you as having lost 30% of the use of your whole person. You would multiple 500 weeks by 30% to come up 175 weeks of permanent disability owed to you. Then you multiply 175 weeks by 60% of your average weekly wage (AWW), or $420, to come up with a benefit of $73,500.

Disfigurement

Finally, if you have suffered a disfigurement (a serious, permanent change to your appearance) to your face, head, neck, chest (above the breast line), hands, arms, or lower legs, either from a work-related injury (such as a burn or cut) or resulting surgical scars, there is a different way of determining your entitlement to a permanent disability award. You and your employer, or your attorneys, will come up with a number of weeks that your disfigurement is valued at (or if you can’t agree, a Commission arbitrator will set a number of weeks), up to a maximum of 162 weeks. (Severe facial scars are usually assigned the most number of weeks.) You multiply the number of weeks by 60% of your average weekly wage (AWW) to come up with your disfigurement award.

Note that you can’t collect both disability payments for the loss of use of a body part as well as compensation for disfigurement for that same part of the body.

Permanent Total Disability

If you suffered a work-related injury or illness that rendered you completely unable to work, permanently, or you suffered the loss of use of both eyes, legs, feet, arms or hands (or any combination of two body parts), you are considered to be completely and permanently disabled for workers’ comp purposes. In this case, you have the right to receive lifetime weekly permanent disability benefit of two-thirds of your average weekly wage. Of course, this benefit is subject to a maximum, which is 133 1/3% of the state average weekly wage at the time of your injury ($930.39 in 2011, for a maximum of $1243 per week).

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