The check you receive at the closing of your workers’ compensation claim is the payment of a permanent partial disability award (or PPD award). When you cash that check, it does not settle your claim, and that check is not a settlement award. The payment of a PPD award at the closure of your claim is simply the Department of Labor and Industries or a self-insured company doing what is required by statue.
The payment of your PPD award is an obligation that is being satisfied, one that you can protest or appeal, an obligation that should be reviewed by an attorney, who will gladly do it for you without a fee for the review. Typically, a fee is only paid if the attorney is able to increase your award. If not, no fee is typically charged.
If you are left with a permanent disability, but you are employable, you are entitled, by statute, to a disability award. These disability awards may be disputed. Typically, the disability is determined by physicians who receive significant compensation from Department of Labor and Industries or a self-insured employer, and if the Department of Labor and Industries or a self-insured employer finds these physicians or doctors too liberal with their awards, they will not be called back to do additional examinations, or the claims manager may call the doctor to let him or her know of their dissatisfaction. So do not trust the awards as being fair or correct.
When your case is closed, if you are left with a permanent impairment, you should be entitled to a permanent partial disability award, as defined under Washington law. The current schedule for those awards is described in RCW 51.32 .080. For further descriptions of disability awards, especially for those unrelated to the arms and legs, please see the Washington Administrative Code beginning with section WAC 296-20-19000 or go to the following link: Permanent Partial Disability
Another link for most of these citations can be found at: Access Washington.
Your Right to Seek an Increased Claim
At Calbom and Schwab, we typically tell the prospective client that is able to work to cash their check and bring in the closing order on their claim. Cashing the check does not prevent anyone from seeking an increased award. You do not waive your right to dispute, protest or argue that the disability award is incorrect. Your right to fight an incorrect award, even after cashing the check upon receipt of a permanent partial disability award is protected by statute:
“51.04.060. No evasion of benefits or burdens
No employer or worker shall exempt himself or herself from the burden or waive the benefits of this title by any contract, agreement, rule or regulation, and any such contract, agreement, rule or regulation shall be pro tanto void.”
Seeking an Attorney Review of your Award
Increases can be obtained by having an attorney review your records to find obvious flaws in the award. The attorney and you can arrange for a second opinion examination or an appeal can be filed to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. Sometimes agreed examinations can be arranged with a middle of the road examiner acceptable to both sides. Sometimes the attorney may be willing to advance funds for a second opinion, but typically this is to be done by the client. Attorneys will often advance funds in pension appeals, but in permanent partial disability awards it is more of a case by case analysis as to whether he or she will advance funds for a second opinion.
There is a recent law that does give the Department of Labor and Industries or a self-insured employer the right to settle certain benefits by a binding agreement, such as waiver of vocational benefits or pension benefits, but this is a matter to discuss with your attorney to see if it applies to your case.
The bottom line is that the consultation with an attorney, whether in one of our offices throughout the State of Washington, or with another law firm, is typically a free service, so why not take advantage of asking whether your permanent partial disability award, your PPD award was fair?