As long as their injuries are work related, most employees are eligible for workers’ comp benefits in Alaska. To obtain benefits, workers must file an Alaska workers’ compensation claim. Claims are denied for a variety of reasons—not all of them legitimate. If you believe your claim was unfairly denied, talk to a qualified attorney about your right to appeal.
Workers’ comp benefits in Alaska are divided into temporary disability benefits and permanent disability benefits. Temporary benefits are paid while you are recovering and receiving treatment for the injury; permanent benefits are paid when you are either fully healed or reach a point where you won’t improve further (this is called “maximum medical improvement.”). Most benefits are calculated based on your gross weekly wage after payroll deductions (called your “spendable weekly wage”), at the time of your injury.
Temporary total disability (TTD) benefits are paid when you need time off work to recover from your injury. These benefits are 80% of your spendable weekly wage, paid in biweekly installments. However, Alaska law sets minimum and maximum rates of compensation. In 2017, you cannot receive less than $273 per week or more than $1,239 per week. However, your benefits can be reduced to as low as $110 if you don’t show the insurer proof of your earnings. TTD benefits stop once you return to work or reach maximum medical improvement.
Temporary partial disability (TPD) benefits are paid when you are able to work in some capacity, even though you aren’t fully healed yet. For example, suppose your doctor releases you to work with a ten-pound lifting restriction, but your job normally requires you to lift 20 pounds. Your employer might be able to accommodate your restrictions by giving you light-duty work at lower pay.
TPD benefits are 80% of the difference between your spendable weekly wage before and after injury. For example, suppose you had a spendable weekly wage of $1,000 before your injury and only $600 after your injury. Your TPD rate would be $320 ($1,000 - $600 = $400; 80% of $400 = $320). TPD benefits can’t be more than your TTD rate, though. TPD is paid until you return to work or for a maximum of five years.
Once you have reached maximum medical improvement, a doctor will examine you to see whether you have any permanent physical loss because of your work injury. If you do, the doctor will assign a percentage of loss of use of the whole body (called an “impairment rating”). That percentage is then multiplied by $177,000 to determine the dollar amount of your permanent partial impairment award. For example, suppose you injured your knee at work and received an impairment rating of 10%. Your PPI award would be $17,700 (10% of $177,000). This award is usually paid in a lump sum, unless you’re in the reemployment process (described below).
If you have a serious permanent disability that prevents you from ever working regularly or continuously again, you will receive permanent total disability (PTD) benefits. Certain disabilities listed in a state statute—such as the loss of sight in both eyes—automatically qualify as permanent and total disabilities. Other disabilities may also qualify on a case-by-case basis. In most cases, PTD is 80% of your spendable weekly wage and lasts as long as you are totally disabled. PTD is subject to the same maximum and minimum rates as TTD. If you already received a PPI award, it will be deducted from your PTD benefits.
If you’ve been out of work for at least 60 days because of your work injury, you can apply for reemployment benefits. These benefits include services such as job training, education (college) and job placement services to get you back to work. In some circumstances, they also provide a monetary benefit.
A rehabilitation specialist will create a plan for you to return to work, which can last for up to two years. The workers’ comp insurance company will pay all costs of retraining, up to a maximum amount of $13,300. The retraining process doesn’t guarantee that you’ll land the job of your dreams. The aim of the plan is to get you employed and earning at least 60% of your earnings at the time of injury.
If you’re still in retraining and your TTD and PPI benefits have run out, you can receive a reemployment stipend. This stipend is 70% of your spendable weekly wage (your gross wages minus deductions)...Stipend benefits stop either after two years or once you’re finished with the retraining program, whichever happens first.
If you’re eligible for reemployment benefits and you’ve been given a permanent impairment rating (discussed above), you can choose to receive a lump sum instead of participating in a job retraining program. This is called a “dislocation benefit.” Depending on the nature and extent of your injuries, the dislocation benefit is $5,000, $8,000, or $13,500.
Medical expenses that are reasonable and related to your work injury must be paid by the insurance company for at least two years (or more, if ordered by the workers compensation board). The insurer has 30 days to pay your medical bills; otherwise, they could owe you interest and penalties.
If the work injury causes death, dependents may be able to claim death benefits. Alaska workers’ comp pays a worker’s dependents a lump sum of $5,000 and weekly benefits in the amount of 80% of the worker’s spendable weekly wage (subject to the same maximum and minimum rates as TTD benefits). Workers’ comp will also pay up to $10,000 for funeral expenses
It is far better to be healthy than to have a good workers’ comp claim. Do what is good for yourself physically, rather than what you think might benefit your claim. Stay positive and try to remain eager about getting back into the workforce. If you run into problems in your workers’ comp case, consult with an experienced workers’ comp lawyer. (To learn more, see our page on finding and hiring a workers’ comp lawyer.)