Degenerative disc disease isn’t actually a disease. It’s the term for when the cushions between your vertebrae put stress on nerves and cause pain after becoming herniated or otherwise damaged due to years of wear and tear. Millions of people suffer from degenerative disc disease, and many can trace their condition to repetitive on-the-job stress or a single, job-related accident.
In those cases, weekly workers’ compensation benefits may be available to help recover lost wages and pay for medical treatment. Those payments continue until you have recovered sufficiently to work as you did before you injury.
But when the pain from your degenerative disc disease reaches a level where you have permanent loss of function or are unable to work, a financial settlement could be an option. The New York Workers’ Compensation Board outlines specific types of benefits beyond regular, ongoing payments.
Schedule Loss of Use vs. Section 32
Schedule Loss of Use (SLU) awards are available when a specific body part is permanently impaired, affecting job capability to some degree. However, back injuries — whether they are sudden or long-term — are not among those eligible for SLU awards. Schedules Loss of Use only applies to:
- Arm (shoulder and elbow)
- Hand (wrist and forearm)
- Fingers and/or Thumb
- Leg (hip and knees)
- Foot (ankle)
- Toes and/or Great Toe
- Eyesight (loss of vision)
- Hearing (loss of hearing)
- Disfigurement (face/scar, neck, scalp)
For a degenerative back injury, you might look at a Section 32 settlement as an option. A Section 32 agreement is a negotiated settlement between you and the insurance company. It is typically a lump sum or annuity that ends your workers’ compensation claim and any ongoing benefits. You can choose to seek a settlement for only a lost wages claim, only a medical care claim, or both.
It’s critical to understand that a Section 32 settlement prevents you from making any further workers’ compensation claims for your degenerative disc disease. Because this negotiated settlement is irreversible, retaining experienced representation is very important. Albany workers’ compensation lawyer Paul Giannetti can walk you through the rights and responsibilities that go with entering into a Section 32 settlement and help you determine if this is the right path.
When considering a Section 32 settlement, be sure to discuss your physical condition and future medical care with your physician first. You may find it in your best interest to keep open the medical costs claim while settling the lost wages claim. While a new work-related injury to the same body part would allow you to open a new claim, it could be difficult to prove that an ongoing, degenerative condition is re-injured.
Once a Section 32 agreement is submitted to the state workers’ comp board, you have 10 days to withdraw from the agreement. The board reviews all Section 32 settlements, typically with a hearing. Hearings can be waived in some cases if all parties agree.
The insurance company has 10 days to postmark a check once the agreement is final, and there is a 20 percent penalty if the payment is late. How much will you receive? This will depend on a number of factors, including the severity of your condition, your wages before the injury and whether you can return to the same work. A workers’ compensation attorney is a powerful ally in negotiating the best possible Section 32 settlement.
WISK and Lump-Sum Payments
Two other options for settling your degenerative disc workers’ comp case under New York law are WISK and lump-sum payments.
WISK stands for Walk-In Stipulation Calendar. Cases through WISK are usually completed in about two weeks, and if your condition is straightforward, it might be a good path. The downside is that the state workers’ comp board makes the final decision on your settlement, and it cannot be appealed.
Lump-sum payments resemble Section 32 settlements, but medical payments and lost wage compensation are never separated.
Contact Us Today for Legal Assistance
To review your options in a free consultation, contact Paul Giannetti, Attorney at Law at (518) 243-8011 or complete our online form.