Oregon Workers' Compensation Board Decides Disability Cases

Posted on Apr 11, 2014

The Oregon Workers’ Compensation Board recently issued two decisions on permanent partial disability; one on the issue of "work disability," and the other on "whole person disability."

Permanent Partial Disability is a benefit available under an accepted workers’ compensation claim that compensates an injured worker for the permanent loss of earning capacity resulting from an on-the-job injury. There are two kinds of permanent partial disability; whole person disability and work disability.

This case focused on the benefit of “work disability.”  If the attending physician determines that an injured worker is not able to return to the job that was performed at the time of injury, then the injured worker is entitled to compensation for a work disability.  Only the attending physician can make this call.

In this particular case, the attending physician released the injured worker back to full duty. However, the attending physician understood that the injured worker only needed to crouch occasionally, when in fact, the job at the time of the injury required frequent crouching. There is a difference. The Board ruled that even though the attending physician released the worker back to “full work,” it was based on a misunderstanding of the actual physical requirements of the job. As a result, the injured worker was entitled to a work disability, because the injured worker could no longer perform the job as it was described at the time of the injury.  This case illustrates the importance of having an accurate description of your job at the time you were injured.

Another recent decision involving the other kind of permanent partial disability, known as "whole person disability," illustrates the unpredictability in the Oregon Workers’ Compensation system. The whole person part of the permanent partial disability benefit is based upon the findings of a closing examination, and a physician’s opinion about how much a worker can do in the workplace. A special rule allows for a permanent partial disability rating if the injured worker suffers from a “chronic condition.” a chronic condition exists when there is a significant loss of repetitive use of an injured body part at the work place.  The definition of "significant" is often a topic of argument in these kinds of cases.

In this case, the Board ruled that the worker’s significant inability to use his shoulder at or above shoulder level was not sufficient to prove a significant loss of repetitive use of that shoulder. As result, the injured worker was not entitled to an impairment value based on a chronic condition under the applicable rule. A quick read of the decision doesn’t tell us this injured worker’s job. However, we can only hope that he does not hang sheetrock, paint, or frame houses.

If you have an on-the-job injury, and your curious about whether you qualify for permanent partial disability, call us at 503-325-8600. We work with injured workers all the time.

Joe Di Bartolomeo
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