New York workers’ compensation provides weekly disability benefits to injured workers who suffer partial permanent disability as a result of a work-related accident or injury. These benefits are capped based on a payment schedule.
Until recently, it was unclear whether workers who suffered partial permanent disability as a result of more than one workplace injury could recover several weekly benefits payments. This month, New York’s highest court ruled that they could not. It held that the weekly maximum benefit applied regardless of the number of injuries the worker sustained.
The case involved a shop technician who sought to recover benefits for three separate injuries sustained in 2005. In the first two incidents, the technician sprained his back and suffered injuries as a result of a slip and fall on ice. He filed a workers’ compensation claim and was awarded $500 a week in permanent partial disability benefits, the maximum payment allowed at the time.
Later that year, the worker suffered partial hearing loss as a result of being exposed to loud noises at work. A judge awarded him an additional $500 a week in benefits, to be paid concurrently with the previously-ordered $400 benefit.
At first, the judge’s ruling was upheld by a Workers’ Compensation Board and an intermediate appeals court. However, the New York Court of Appeals disagreed. It held that the weekly maximum benefit is truly meant to be the maximum payment. Otherwise, a person with several small injuries could wind up getting more benefits than someone with, for example, significantly disabling paralysis.
The court’s ruling clarifies what had previously been a confusing provision of New York workers’ compensation law. Since benefits will now be subject to a strict cap, it also highlights the importance of fighting for the maximum benefit payment at the start of a workers’ compensation case.