At a certain point during the treatment for work-related injuries, a worker will be told that they reached the point of maximum medical improvement (MMI). At this point, they contact a workers’ compensation attorney in Greenville to find out if this aspect will impact their workers’ comp benefits. Most of them are dismayed to find out that this means they have to return to work, even though they do not feel fully recovered.
The reality is that you cannot be out on workers’ compensation benefits forever. At a certain point, you will reach a point where further treatments will not improve your condition anymore. This is, in fact, what maximum medical improvement means. From this point onwards, the doctor who is treating your injuries will contact your employer and their insurance company with this information.
North Carolina Offers One of the Longest Workers’ Comp Periods
Compared to other states, North Carolina is extremely generous with injured workers. You may be out on workers comp benefits for as long as 500 weeks, according to the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act. However, this is the maximum legal period.
For example, a worker who suffered an ankle sprain cannot expect to be out on workers comp for more than a month or two. At the other end of the spectrum, a worker who had a severe fall from a height and suffered extensive head and back injuries may never make a full recovery, even at the point when the doctor states they reached the maximum medical improvement.
What Happens When You Reach the Point of Maximum Medical Improvement
So, the doctor states that you reached the point of maximum medical improvement. What do you have to do? First of all, bring your doctor’s recommendation to a workers’ compensation attorney in Greenville. The attorney will look over the final findings concerning your condition and the type of work the doctor deems you fit for.
There are several possibilities:
- You can return to your regular job.
- You should work in a light-duty position.
- You should work a part-time job.
Understandably, the last two options mean that you will make less money than you used to before the injury. At this point, your workers’ compensation attorney in Greenville will examine the exact description in your maximum medical improvement record.
Types of Disability Benefits Available for Workers Before and After MMI
The disability compensation you are eligible to receive as wage replacement is determined by the North Carolina Industrial Commission. A commission will evaluate the extent and severity of your injuries and the progress you make during treatment.
There are four types of disability benefits available to injured workers during treatment and after they reach maximum medical improvement. These are:
1. Temporary Partial Disability
This is the most frequently granted type of worker’s compensation disability benefit. Workers who qualify for it usually can return to work in a less strenuous position, or for a reduced number of days per week – 3 out of 5, for example – while they follow treatments for their injuries.
In general, once they reach maximum medical improvement, most workers are able to return to their full-time job. While they are healing, the disability benefits paid to them represent 2/3 of the difference between the wages before the workplace accident and the wages they earned in a light-duty or part-time position.
2. Temporary Total Disability
When an employee’s injuries are so serious that they cannot perform any kind of work while they undergo treatment, the North Carolina Industrial Commission will grant temporary total disability benefits.
These benefits represent 2/3 of the workers’ average wages. In this case, it is expected that the worker will make a full recovery once they reach maximum medical improvement and will go back to work.
3. Permanent Partial Disability
Some workplace accidents result in very severe injuries. And many workers never make a full recovery. Thus, once they reach maximum medical improvement, the injured workers still have not regained the function of a body part.
For this type of disability benefit, the maximum period of receiving wage replacements is 500 weeks. However, depending on how severe the disability is, the commission may grant a longer deadline.
4. Permanent Total Disability
This type of disability benefit is granted to workers who suffered catastrophic injuries, which leave them with a life-changing impairment. The type of injuries qualifying for permanent total disability benefits after reaching maximum medical improvement are:
- Loss of limbs
- Loss of both hands or feet
- Loss of sight
- Severe burns affecting more than one-third of the body
- Severe internal organ damage
- Spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injury.
When a person suffers this kind of injury, it is assumed that they will never be able to work in any capacity at any point in the future. Just like with the permanent partial disability case, the NC Industrial Commission may grant a period exceeding 500 weeks for collecting disability benefits.
Can You Challenge a Doctor’s Decision on Maximum Medical Improvement?
Many workers receive the news that they reached maximum medical improvement and can go back to work with worry. It is understandable, from one point of view. You are afraid that you will re-injure yourself in the same area of the body, or in a different area.
However, your employer does not want you sitting at home and getting paid while doing no work after a doctor says you are fit to work. Thus, you cannot refuse to return to your job once you are recalled. Even a few days’ delay can get you fired.
Your best option is to contact a Greenville workers compensation attorney and let them analyze the case. It is possible to file and appeal and request a different medical opinion on your condition. Meanwhile, you should go back to work and strive to perform your duties to the best of your abilities.
Let an Experienced Lawyer Negotiate the Terms for Going Back to Work!
Whenever you feel that you are being called to work too soon, a Greenville workers’ comp attorney is ready to examine your case from a legal standpoint. We offer you a free case review and will give you a realistic outlook on what you may expect.
In some cases, you really reached the point of maximum medical improvement and only fear keeps you back from returning to work. In others, a doctor may have made a mistake and we can overturn their decision. Call us at 919-328-2336 to schedule an initial appointment and present your case to us!