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Workers' comp settlements for back injuries may not be enough

It is reasonable to assume that when an employee is injured in a work-related accident, there are some immediate consequences. These can include physical injury, medical expenses, and time off work for recovery. All of these things can further escalate the employee's frustration. But an injured employee can seek workers' compensation to help with some of the financial challenges that can arise.

But recently the results of a study show that workers who suffer a back injury from a job-related accident are likely to experience a number of future financial and personal problems even if they reach a workers' compensation settlement. What does this mean?

It could mean that the way workers' compensation claims are currently being handled is not addressing all the issues that an injured worker may face in the future. The study looked at almost 1,500 cases involving African-Americans and non-Hispanic whites who settled workers' compensation claims after suffering a work-related back injury.

It appears that these groups experience a number of problems even after the claims were settled. These problems included:

  • Increase of risk of foreclosure
  • Divorce
  • Breach of contract
  • Other financial difficulties

The results of the study also showed that these problems only continued to grow in the time after the settlement was reached. One explanation for the increase in duress is that a back injury decreases the productivity of a worker and lowers the worker's wage earning capacity in the future. This was especially the case for workers who were under the age of 35 when the injury occurred.

Should workers' compensation address these types of issues? Should claims and settlements take into account the future expenses and challenges that the worker could possibly face?

Source: EHS Today: "Following Back Injury Settlements, Some Workers Experience Escalating Life Disruptions," Laura Walter, Aug. 3, 2011.

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