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Your Guide to Impairment Ratings in Iowa Workers’ Compensation Cases

September 22, 2021By Niko Pothitakis

In workers’ compensation claims, impairment ratings are used to measure a work injury’s severity. The impairment rating will ultimately help determine how much compensation a work injury victim is eligible to recover. 

What Is an Impairment?

In workers’ compensation cases, impairments are defined as either:

  • An inability for an injury victim to use his or her limbs, muscles, joints, and other body parts, as well as he or she could before the injury
  • An inability for the victim to control his or her nervous system, including the spinal cord and peripheral nerves, as well as he or she could before the injury

Medical professionals will determine if a patient has an impairment through proper testing and diagnostics procedures. Next, they will assign an impairment rating.

How Impairment Ratings Work

If injury victims display any inability to function the way they could before sustaining an injury, their doctor will likely assign a specific impairment rating, per the American Medical Association Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. Doctors may also examine the patient’s medical history to gauge how an injury impacted his or her ability to function when assigning an impairment rating.

To help gauge functionality and the degree of impairment, medical professionals often look at activities of daily living (ADL), which include physical activity, communication, hygiene, sexual activity, sleep, and sensory function. Medical professionals will assess how an impairment impacts a worker’s ability to perform normal job functions. A severe physical impairment could have a bigger impact on a worker’s ability to perform tasks in the trades, while other sedentary jobs may not require as much physical labor.

What Happens After Receiving an Impairment Rating

Once an injury victim has recovered as much as he or she can after the work accident, his or her doctor will report the assigned impairment rating to the workers’ comp insurance company. If the impairment rating indicates a permanent impairment, victims may be eligible to receive permanent partial disability benefits. However, the insurer will ultimately be the party responsible for determining how much compensation the victim will receive.

If a victim disagrees with the assigned impairment rating, he or she may request an independent medical exam with another doctor.

Impairment ratings help determine how much compensation workers can recover in workers’ comp cases. If a victim disagrees with an initial impairment rating, it’s not necessarily final.