In March 2007 the Court of Appeals ruled in LaCroix v. Syracuse Executive Air Service, Inc., 8 N.Y. 3d 348 (2007) that an award for a permanent partial disability under §§15(3) (a) through (t) of the Workers' Compensation Law (commonly called a scheduled loss of use award) could not paid at the time the award is made by a Law Judge at the Workers' Compensation Board if not enough time had passed since the date of the accident to pay the entire award. A part of the award was required to be paid in installments over time until such time as enough time had passed after the accident to allow the full award to be paid to an injured worker.
The amount of the benefit payable to an injured worker under §§15(3) (a) through (t) of the Workers' Compensation Law is a number of weeks determined by the percentage loss of use and the number of weeks assigned to a body part or parts. For example an arm is given a value of 312 weeks and an eye 160 weeks. So if an injured worker sustains a 30% scheduled loss of use of an arm and 70% loss of vision as defined in the 1996 Workers' Compensation Board Medical Guidelines they would be entitled to 205.6 (93.6 weeks and 112 weeks, respectively) weeks of benefits. On average an award such as this is made about one and a half years after the date of accident (about 78 weeks after the accident).
Under Lacroix if the award were to be made after 78 weeks the injured worker would receive some benefits immediately after being awarded the benefits and continue to receive the rest of the award in biweekly checks from the workers' compensation carrier until the remaining 127.6 weeks in the award passed. A worker could request to have the entire award paid immediately however they would only get the present value of the award and not the full value of the award.
This made the most severely injured workers wait to receive their statutorily defined award for permanent damage until enough time had passed after the accident so that the weeks could be fully paid to them. Under Chapter 351 of the 2009 Laws of the State of New York (A2021B/S2776B) signed by Governor Paterson on August 26, 2009 an injured worker will no longer be required to wait for their award to be fully paid. In the example above the injured worker could receive the entire balance of the award that is made to them within about three weeks of when the award is made rather than having to wait nearly another two and one half years to receive the balance of full value of the benefits they were awarded. All that they have to do is request that the award be paid immediately and the workers' compensation carrier must pay the award in full without any commutation to the award’s present value. The bill still allows an injured worker to collect the balance of the award over time, if they desire.
The enactment of this amendment to §15(3) of the Workers' Compensation Law will allow a faster delivery of the benefits due an injured worker and will eliminate administrative costs and potential penalties against a workers' compensation carrier.
This blog was originally written for the New York State Bar Association’s Tort Insurance and Compensation Law Section.