Back in September, thousands of injured workers, legislators, and other advocates stood with us in a far-reaching fight to stop the disastrous changes proposed by the NYS Workers Compensation Board. The public comment period ended in October and as a result of the uprising, the NYS WCB rescinded the initial proposal. November 22nd, the second proposal was released. A summary of it, written by our partner Richard Donohue, Esq., is below. The period for public comment for this ends 12/22/2017. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org before then to voice your opinions or concerns on the changes.
NOVEMBER 2017 PROPOSED SCHEDULE LOSS OF USE GUIDELINE CHANGES
As indicated previously, the Board, under the direction of the New York State Legislature, has issued regulation changes and proposed amendments to NYS workers compensation “Impairment Guidelines for Schedule Loss of Use”. Their initial proposal dated 9/1/17 caused an extreme and fervent backlash from the labor community as well as from claimants and their attorneys during the public comment period which expired 10/23/17. As a result, the Board issued a second set of proposed regulations and guidelines dated 11/22/17 regarding Schedule Loss of Use.
The November 2017 proposal rescinded the September proposal and also carried forward most of the existing schedule loss permanency guidelines, with several significant exceptions. Although we are not in agreement with all the changes proposed in the November 2017 guidelines, we believe that this guideline proposal is a significant improvement over the initial September 2017 guideline proposal which would have devastated injured claimants and eliminated most awards for permanent loss of use to extremities.
Significantly, the November 2017 proposal eliminates the assignment of 10% to 15% schedule loss of use for rotator cuff tears, a proposal in which we are not in agreement and believe will result in lower awards for permanent shoulder injuries. Additionally, the current existing guidelines arguably permit the addition of percentage losses for both forward flexion and abduction, whereas the November 2017 proposal states that only the greater of the two losses should be used in calculating the percentage loss of use. We believe this will also result in lower awards for permanent shoulder injuries.
With regard to injuries to the elbow, some of the considerations given for mild to moderate loss of flexion are reduced insofar as the existing guidelines give a range from 7.5% to 10% whereas the new guidelines indicate only 7.5% for mild loss of flexion. Whereas the range for moderate loss of flexion was 33.33% to 40%, the new guidelines indicate that only 33% loss of use would be given for moderate loss of flexion in the elbow joint. We believe this will also result in lower monetary awards for permanent injuries to the elbow. Similar reductions were incorporated into the guidelines for the hand.
Importantly, the new guidelines also delete a 7.5% schedule loss of use attributable for meniscus tears in the knee, whereas before they were approximately in the average range of 15% to 20% under the existing guidelines.
Changes were also made in the new guidelines proposal with regard to total joint replacements of both the knee and the hip which reflect advances in surgical techniques that have resulted in better outcomes for these type of surgeries. Although we agree with the general proposal that the baseline for any schedule loss of use relative to total hip and knee injuries should begin at 35%, we believe the way the current proposal is written incorporates many range of motion finding deficits, thus making it unlikely that the final award will exceed the 35% figure, except in the event of a disastrous medical result. Range of motion deficits should be added to the 35% baseline figure, not included in it.
Certainly, while the November 2017 proposal represents a significant advance over the prior September 2017 proposal which, again, was disastrous for injured workers, we believe that there remain areas in which benefits for injured workers can be improved by eliminating some or all of the aforementioned guideline changes.