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Who Decides A Worker's Level Of Impairment?

In workers' compensation cases, a worker's degree of impairment matters because it determines how they will be classified, and the degree to which that worker will be able to collect benefits. Under Pennsylvania law, injured workers used to have to undergo an impairment-rating evaluation (IRE). An independent doctor would administer the IRE according to the most recent guidelines put out by the American Medical Association (AMA). But a recent case challenging this process has led to the court finding the AMA's role to be unconstitutional.

The court case

In short, a court recently ruled that authority to make impairment decisions could not be delegated to the AMA, because all legislative authority is supposed to rest with the General Assembly. InĀ the case in question, a woman had been receiving total temporary disability, but when she went through the IRE, a doctor ruled that she was only 10 percent impaired. Therefore, the court modified her disability status from total temporary to partial temporary. This decision had concrete consequences for how long she would be able to collect benefits.

The AMA had too much power

In this case, the woman at the center of the case benefited from having the Pennsylvania courts withdraw power from the AMA to make impairment decisions. But one could also imagine a scenario wherein the AMA might have issued an impairment rating that was greater than that assessed by another entity.

In any case, workers who have been injured must have their injuries documented thoroughly before applying for workers' compensation or disability benefits. The process is not always straightforward or easy, and it can help to have an experienced workers' compensation attorney on your side to guide you through the necessary steps.

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