Calculate North Carolina Workers' Comp for Permanent Impairment

In cases in which the employee has a permanent impairment to one or more of the parts of his or her body and is unable to earn wages which are as great as income earned before the injury, the employee, rather than choosing the benefits for permanent impairment to a body part under the schedule of benefits for specific body parts, may elect to be compensated based upon another formula. He or she may elect instead to receive 2/3 of the wage difference between what the worker was earning before the injury, and what they are able to earn after the injury. For instance, if the worker earned $700 per week before the injury, but because of injury or illness could only earn wages at a rate of $400 per week when they returned to work, the worker could elect to be paid based upon the difference between the two figures. In this case, the difference would be $300 per week and the worker would be entitled to 2/3 of that amount or $200 per week.

The problem with this alternative is that the statute limits recovery under this provision to a period of no greater than 300 weeks from the date of the injury. In addition, if the worker received workers’ compensation benefits for total but temporary disability before returning to work, those weeks count against the worker and reduce the 300-week (wage replacement) period.

Additionally, if the worker earns raises during this period, such a raise would result in a corresponding reduction in workers’ compensation benefits.

This alternative method of computing entitlement for permanent impairment is usually not as beneficial to the worker as electing to take benefits based upon the schedule of benefits for impairments to specific body parts. However, there are cases in which the alternative method is more beneficial. The issue has to be decided on a case-by-case basis with special attention to the probable events which may occur in the future. Of course, the future is always difficult to predict, and great care should be taken when making this election.

The election of which method to use to calculate payment for permanent impairment does not arise, however, until the worker has reached maximum medical improvement and has returned to work. Unfortunately, in many cases, the worker is never able to return to work in any capacity. In that case, the worker will continue to receive wage replacement benefits at the rate of 2/3 of the worker’s average weekly wage for the rest of his or her life.