Overview of Colorado workers’ compensation benefits

Colorado employees who are injured while on the job should understand the types of workers’ compensation benefits available.

Colorado residents who experience accidents on the job or contract occupational illnesses should be able to count on workers' compensation benefits if they cannot return to work or their work abilities are diminished. Colorado workers' compensation benefits provide medical care and wage replacement for work-related harm.

Wage replacement when an injured worker is unable to work is normally two-thirds of a worker's average weekly wage or AWW, up to a weekly cap that is set by statute. AWW includes not only salary or wages, but in appropriate circumstances, other components of income like tips, overtime, commissions and more.

Temporary versus permanent disability

A work-related disability eligible for wage-replacement payments may be temporary or permanent. With a temporary disability, a person is eventually expected to experience either complete recovery or ongoing improvement until maximum medical improvement is reached, at which time the worker may be able to return to previous work or to modified duties.

A permanent disability, which can be total or partial, is one in which at least some level of functional loss or impairment is expected to remain for the rest of the worker's life.

Total versus partial disability

Total disability means that a person is unable to work at all, either temporarily or permanently. With a partial disability a person may still be able to work in a limited fashion or with restrictions despite his or her impairment. This may include reduced hours, adjusted responsibilities or something else.

When a worker has a temporary partial disability or TPD, his or her benefit is calculated by looking at the difference between the wage level he or she is able to still able to earn despite the temporary impairment and his or her wage level before the injury. The weekly benefit is equal to two-thirds of the difference.

Calculating benefits for permanent disability

People with permanent total disability or PTD are normally awarded permanent benefits that amount to 66 percent of their average weekly wages.

Benefits for people with permanent partial disability, called PPD, are not based upon preinjury earnings. PPD benefits are instead calculated based upon diagnoses and other information provided by physicians. PPD falls into two categories: scheduled or nonscheduled impairment, also called whole person impairment.

A scheduled impairment happens when the work-related injury causes loss of functioning in the employee's toe, foot, leg, finger, hand, arm or eye, or to vision or hearing. The worker receives a monetary award based on a preset formula that corresponds to the particular loss.

A nonscheduled or whole person impairment occurs when the PPD involves an injury not covered by the schedules like one to the spine or to an internal organ, or a mental impairment. To determine the amount of appropriate compensation, calculations are made according to impairment evaluation guidance published by the American Medical Association.

Seek legal advice after a work injury

In addition to seeking medical attention and notifying his or her employer, an injured Colorado worker should also make it a priority to contact an attorney. A lawyer can make a big difference in the sometimes complex process of filing for and receiving appropriate workers' compensation benefits.

From his office in Denver, attorney Cliff Eley of the Eley Law Firm practices exclusively in the area of workers' compensation law and represents clients throughout the state of Colorado in their claims for workers' compensation benefits.