A catastrophic work injury or occupational disease can make work injury victims unemployable.  Here, unemployable means that the person is unable to “perform or obtain a gainful occupation with a reasonable degree of success and continuity”.  If medical treatment or vocational services cannot make the person employable, then the work injury claimant is permanently and totally disabled.  If you have an L&I claim or workers’ compensation claim, and you are permanently totally disabled, then you are entitled to “pension” benefits under your claim.

 

L&I pension payments

When the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) places a work injury claimant on pension, then their L&I claim is closed. However, the injured worker receives pension benefits for the rest of their life, so long as they remain unemployable.  L&I pays out pension benefits monthly, around the 15th of each month.  The amount depends on the worker’s salary and wages at the time of injury.  Furthermore, if the worker is married, then he or she can choose for their spouse to get survivor benefits. Simply put, “survivor benefits” means that if the work injury claimant passes then their spouse will receive the pension benefits. Under certain circumstances, this choice may also impact the monthly L&I pension amount.

 

Permanent total disability

There are many factors to consider when determining whether a work injury claimant is permanently and totally disabled.  These factors include the following considerations, among others:

1) The worker’s work pattern at the time of injury – part-time employment, full time, seasonal worker, and so on.

2) Whether the work-accident, injury, or work-related illness cause the permanent physical or mental limitations.

3) Were there any preexisting permanent (physical or mental) limitations?

4) The person’s wage-earning capacity.

5) The local labor market.

6) The worker’s strengths and weaknesses.

7) The work injury claimant’s age, education, training, and experience.

 

Based on these factors, L&I may consider the workplace injury claimant as permanently and totally disabled.  Even if a person is not physically or mentally helpless, they can still fall under the qualifications. However, we have to remember that an injured worker doesn’t have permanent total disability just because they cannot return to their former job. In fact, if the worker can perform or obtain any gainful work with success and continuity, then they are employable.

 

Employability: Are you employable?

The Department of Labor and Industries places great value on employability, for a variety of reasons.  From my perspective, there are some issues with how L&I views and evaluates employability. In my opinion, saying that someone is employable on paper is not the same as how things manifest themselves in the real world. Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for employability determinations to be based on erroneous or insufficient medical or vocational evidence.

 

Getting help from L&I attorney

As I see it, most people with a workers’ compensation claim recover from their injuries or illness and return to work. However, there are many individuals with L&I claims that need assistance to return to work.  Comparatively, only a small number of workplace injury claimants have permanent and total disability. If you have an L&I claim or a workers’ compensation claim, and the claim administrator is saying you are employable when you are not, then you should immediately speak with a workers’ compensation attorney.