For many years, business and insurance interests have been campaigning to reduce or eliminate the compensation that an injured worker can receive for permanent injury to a limb – arm, leg, hand, foot, finger or toe (also vision loss, hearing loss, and facial disfigurement). Since 2016, their efforts have received a favorable reception from the state Workers’ Compensation Board, which changed its guidelines to reduce permanency evaluations and then issued a series of decisions designed to change legal rules that apply to these cases.
One of the Board’s approaches was to rule that any award for a previous injury to a limb should be deducted from a later injury to the same limb – even if the injuries were completely different. If the worker had a previous knee injury that had been assessed as a 20% loss of use of the leg, and then had a later hip injury that was assessed as a 30% loss of use the leg, the earlier award would be deducted from the later award, even though the hip and knee problems were completely different. In short, the worker would be penalized for having had a previous injury.
On April 21, 2022, in a case brought by Grey & Grey, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the Board was wrong, and that an injured worker is entitled to compensation for a later injury, when “considered by itself and not in conjunction with the previous disability,” as long as the later injury increased the loss of function of the limb.
Although other legal battles continue on the issue of compensation for permanent injury, the Court’s decision was a resounding win for injured workers and a reminder that it is they who the law exists to protect.