Although there are some exceptions, some of which are nothing short of miracles, a person who has been injured will eventually reach a state known as maximum medical improvement, or MMI. This is a point where the person has recovered as much as expected. It does not necessarily mean that the person is now completely better and living life as they once did. It means that they have improved as much as they can, given their injury and the treatment they’ve received. Maximum medical improvement is typically viewed as a point where a person will no longer require treatment meant to improve his or her condition. Ongoing medication or assistive devices may be required, but doctors believe there is little to no chance of continued recovery.
Let’s take a look at a simple example of this in action. Bob, a construction worker, suffered multiple broken bones in his leg in a fall from scaffolding. His injuries were so severe that he required surgery and was confined to a bed and then a wheelchair. Even after surgery and wearing a cast, his leg did not heal properly, and he underwent physical therapy to try to restore function. After three months of this, his doctor and physical therapist decided that there was little chance of him improving any more. He had reached maximum medical improvement. He had limited mobility and chronic pain, but his injury had healed as much as it could.
Maximum medical improvement, as discussed in the example above, is directly related to work injuries and Pennsylvania workers’ compensation claims. Workers are sometimes surprised to find that their temporary workers’ comp benefits are terminated once they reach MMI. They’d been getting weekly checks while they were injured and receiving treatment, but the checks stopped coming once their doctors concluded that there was no possibility for continued improvement.
Depending on the extent of a worker’s injuries, reaching maximum medical improvement does not necessarily mean that they can return to work. They may be permanently disabled or suffering from a condition that impacts many areas of their lives—including their ability to earn a living as they once did. In these cases, workers may be entitled to additional benefits.
What Happens When I Reach MMI?
If you have been receiving weekly workers’ compensation benefits and have now reached maximum medical improvement, your right to temporary disability benefits has most likely come to an end. You might be expected to return to work—if possible. If returning to your previous occupation is impossible because of a lasting disability, you may need to look for a different type of work. If you have suffered any level of permanent impairment or cannot return to work at all, you may be entitled to permanent disability benefits.
Impairment Ratings & Maximum Medical Improvement
Once you’ve reached maximum medical improvement, you’ll be assigned an impairment rating. This is a percentage associated with any permanent disability or loss of function caused by a work injury. Your rating will depend on your condition and your level of recovery. Depending on your rating, you may be entitled to benefits to cover your average weekly wage or the difference between new wages and old wages (if you must take a lower-paying job).
The workers’ compensation insurance company will review your impairment rating and offer the level of benefits they believe you’re entitled to receive. In some cases, these benefits are paid in a lump sum. They may also be paid monthly, annually, or over the course of a few years.
Do I Have to Work After Reaching Maximum Medical Improvement?
There is a common misconception among employees and employers alike that a person must go back to work after reaching maximum medical improvement. This misconception comes from a misunderstanding of what MMI is in the first place. It does not mean that the worker is healed. It does not mean that a worker can return to the same occupation or even return to work at all. It merely means that the worker is not expected to recover any further.
If your employer is pressuring you to return to work because you’ve reached maximum medical improvement, talk to an attorney. If you have reached MMI and were offered a settlement, talk to an attorney. If you have any questions about your work injury claim or have encountered any delay or problem, talk to an attorney. These are complex cases that will directly impact your health and your financial stability. Putting an experienced legal professional in your corner gives you the opportunity to put your interests first, so you can recover and move on.
Contact our Pennsylvania work injury attorneys at Handler, Henning & Rosenberg LLC today. Find out what can be done to recover the full and complete workers’ comp benefits you deserve!