Accidents can happen in a split second, but they can change your life forever. When an accident results in permanent impairment, everything from your physical and emotional well-being to your financial health may suffer. Not only that, but you may go on to live with a reduced quality of life, unable to engage in the activities you once loved or the people you continue to love.
While some accidents are just that — accidents — others are the product of negligence, oversight and/or carelessness. If your accident is of the latter variety, you may be able to hold the at-fault party accountable for your injuries via a personal injury claim. If successful, you can recover the compensation you need to get your life back on track. To determine whether you have a claim, consult with a Utah permanent impairment lawyer at Siegfried & Jensen today.
What Is a Permanent Impairment?
A permanent impairment is any injury that is ongoing and that will affect you for the remainder of your life. The legal definition of permanent impairment, per the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, is an injury that interferes with or completely hinders the use of any body part, organ function or organ system. A permanent impairment is also one that results in the “derangement” of any of the aforementioned parts or systems.
Impairments are not all created equal. For instance, a severe burn on the thigh may cause ongoing pain and emotional duress, but it may not affect many other areas of a person’s life. A traumatic brain injury, on the other hand, can trigger a number of life-changing consequences, such as personality changes, anger issues, seizures, sensory issues, problems with memory and concentration, sleep disturbances, profound confusion and slurred speech. These consequences can all trigger job loss, relationship troubles and other losses.
While it is unfair to diminish the extent to which any permanent impairment affects an individual’s life, the fact is that the law must be able to rate the severity of a life-long disability in some way. It does this via a rating system, which considers the degree to which an injury interferes with a person’s ability to work and engage in the activities of daily living.
Partial Vs. Total Permanent Impairment
When rating a person’s impairment, insurance companies or jurors will attempt to categorize an injury in one of two ways: Partial versus total. Below is a brief definition of what each designation means:
- Partial Disability: A partial disability is one that interferes with the key functions of your occupation or activities of daily living, but does not render you completely unable to engage in either. For instance, a person with a partial disability may be able to perform his or her previous job, but not at the same capacity. As a result, his or her earning potential may decrease. Another example would be if a person can still bathe him or herself despite a permanent impairment, but doing so requires assistance from a specialized device and/or takes considerably longer.
- Total Disability: A total disability is an injury that completely diminishes a person’s ability to engage in his or her previous work and/or engage in an ADL on his or her own. Building off the previous example, a person with a total disability may need help from a caregiver or loved one to bathe and get dressed. He or she may also have to find a new line of occupation — one that may not pay nearly as well as his or her old job — if he or she is able to work at all.
Whether you receive a partial or total disability determination will dictate how much you can recover in compensation for your permanent impairment.
Examples of Permanent Impairment
Permanent impairments vary vastly in nature and can include physical injuries, mental impairments or even diseases and illnesses. While state and federal disability schedules detail what, exactly, constitutes legal permanent impairments, many impairments remain unscheduled. Just because they are not scheduled, however, does not mean you cannot collect compensation for them. If any impairment interferes with your ability to earn an income and enjoy your life, consult with an attorney regarding your legal options. Chances are, you have several.
That said, some permanent disabilities are more common than others. These include the following:
- Severe burns
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Loss of limbs/amputation
- Spinal cord injuries
- Neck injuries
- Back injuries
- Sensory deprivation, such as hearing or vision loss
- Limb deformation
- Ongoing psychological trauma
While many permanent impairments are the result of accidents that another person’s negligence caused, some disabilities are the result of disease or lifestyle habits. For instance, a person who lives with cancer or cirrhosis of the liver due to poor lifestyle choices may also claim a permanent disability. So, too, may a person who has breathing restrictions, experiences frequent seizures, has chronic pain or develops extreme social paralysis.
The Physical, Emotional and Financial Implications of a Permanent Disability
A permanent impairment can adversely affect all areas of your life. From making everyday tasks more challenging to interfering with your ability to earn an income, your impairment can have a range of physical, emotional and financial implications.
The most obvious area impacted by your disability is your physical health. In addition to directly affecting your physical health, a permanent impairment can indirectly affect it. For example, say you lose a leg at the calf. Your once active lifestyle may become sedentary. A sedentary lifestyle is responsible for a number of health disorders, including but not limited to obesity, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, lipid disorders, diabetes, osteoporosis and increased risk of certain cancers.
The loss of a limb is not the only type of physical impairment that can adversely affect other areas of your health. A back injury, neck injury or paralysis can also lead to a sedentary lifestyle. A TBI may cause you to engage in unhealthy lifestyle habits or activities. A severe burn may result in tissue and nerve damage. The bottom line is that a physical injury almost always causes other health issues that may be indirectly related to the original impairment.
Permanent impairments almost always trigger emotional issues. In fact, substantial research shows that individuals who live with physical disabilities are at least three times more likely to develop depression than individuals within the general population. This is in large part because people with disabilities live with multiple risk factors for emotional disturbances, including poverty, lack of access to appropriate care, environmental barriers, lack of confidence, loss of roles/purpose and social ineptitudes.
In addition to depression, individuals with disabilities also live with stress, anxiety and other forms of mental duress. These conditions often contribute to chronic disease, thereby compounding the physical impacts of an impairment.
Finally, individuals who live with permanent impairments also experience severe financial strain, if not poverty. This is because a permanent disability can impede one’s ability to earn an income — or to make a livable income — contribute to missed workdays and require extensive medical attention. It can also necessitate the use of costly medical equipment, such as braces, wheelchairs, home equipment and the like.
When To Consult a Utah Permanent Impairment Lawyer
Whether your disability is the result of an accident that another person’s negligence caused, a work-related incident or a medical condition, the law may entitle you to compensation via some means. To fully understand your options, consult with a permanent disability lawyer in Utah. To consult with such a lawyer, contact Siegfried & Jensen to schedule your free initial consultation today.