A work injury can cause major disruptions to your life—not only your health, but also to your career, finances, and overall well-being. The Alabama workers’ compensation system is designed to compensate you for some of these losses and get you back to work as soon as possible. However, worker’s comp also limits the amount of money you can receive from your employer. This article explains the types and amounts of benefits that are available through workers’ comp. (To get these benefits, you will need to file an Alabama workers’ compensation claim.)
In Alabama, temporary disability benefits are paid to workers who need to take more than three days off work due to their injuries. The first three days of disability are not paid, unless you miss more than 21 days of work.
Temporary total disability benefits are two-thirds of your average weekly wage, but cannot exceed a maximum amount set by law each year. As of July 1, 2017, the maximum benefit is $843 per week. This cap only kicks in if your annual salary is around $65,000 or more. (The cap is updated annually in July; you can find a list of the maximums at the website of the Alabama Division of Workers’ Compensation.) Temporary total benefits are paid until you reach maximum medical improvement or until you’re able return to your normal job.
Temporary partial disability benefits are paid when you’re able to work but earning less than usual due to your injury. These benefits are two-thirds of the difference in your wages. For example, suppose you normally earn $900, but you’re working a light-duty job earning $300 per week. You would receive two-thirds of $600 ($900 - $300), or $400 per week. Temporary partial benefits are paid for a maximum of 300 weeks.
Once your medical treatment is complete, your doctor will evaluate you for a permanent disability. If you are found to be permanently and totally disabled, you will continue to receive weekly payments for life. Permanent total disabilities are very severe injuries—such as the loss of both eyes or arms, or any other injury that leaves the worker unable to hold any type of gainful employment. These benefits are two-thirds of your average weekly wage, subject to the same maximum as temporary total disability benefits.
If your doctor finds that you have a permanent partial disability, you may be eligible for additional benefits. Alabama workers’ compensation pays for scheduled losses, unscheduled losses, and disfigurement.
A scheduled loss of use award is available for permanent disabilities of certain body parts, such as the eyes, ears, arms, legs, hands, or feet. The benefit is two-thirds of your average weekly wages, but is subject to a much lower cap than temporary total disability benefits. Weekly benefits are currently capped at $220 per week. (However, in May of 2017, a federal judge ruled this provision unconstitutional. The order has been temporarily stayed until the Alabama legislature can amend the law.)
The duration of the award depends on the number of weeks assigned to each body part in a state schedule. For example, the schedule lists a total loss of use of a leg at 200 weeks. If you have only a 50% loss of use of the leg, you would receive 100 weeks of payments.
If the body part you injured does not appear on the schedule, you can receive an unscheduled award. This is for injuries to body parts other than the eyes, ears, or extremities—such as injuries to the head, spine, or organs. The benefit is two-thirds of your weekly wage before the injury, multiplied by the percentage of impairment to the body as a whole. Weekly benefits are capped at $220 and payments are limited to 300 weeks, minus the number of weeks for which you have already received temporary total disability benefits.
Example: Your average weekly wage before the injury was $900 and your doctor assigned you a 20% disability rating to the body as a whole. You would receive two-thirds of $900, which is $600, multiplied by 20%—for a weekly rate of $120. If you already received 25 weeks of temporary disability benefits, you will receive 275 weeks of payment (300 - 25). Multiply $120 by 275, to get a total award of $33,000.
A judge may award up to 100 weeks of payment for a serious disfigurement that limits the employee’s ability to find work, as long as it hasn’t already been compensated through a scheduled award. The weekly benefit is two-thirds of the worker’s average weekly wage.
Alabama workers’ compensation also provides additional benefits, including:
As you can see, workers’ compensation only pays of a portion of your lost wages. Workers’ comp also does not pay anything the pain and suffering caused by your injury. While this may seem unfair, it is part of the trade-off that is the workers’ comp system. The advantage of workers’ comp is that you can get benefits relatively quickly without needing to file a lawsuit or prove that your employer was at fault for causing your injury. The downside is that you can’t get the full value of your losses. (However, in some cases, you may be able to file a lawsuit to recover pain and suffering and other losses. To learn more, see our article on suing outside of the workers’ comp system.)