PENNSYLVANIA WORKERS’ COMPENSATION ACT: WHAT ARE SPECIFIC LOSS DISFIGUREMENT BENEFITS?
A claimant who sustains a specific loss disfigurement injury such as a scar from burns or from a work-related surgery to the head, face or neck, may be entitled to receive benefits pursuant to Section 306(c) of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act. To be eligible for disfigurement benefits, a scar must not be commonly occurring in that occupation and must be noticeable and “unsightly in nature.” Some jobs unfortunately are hazardous and burns or scars are more prevalent. Not all burns or scars are considered “unsightly” or particularly noticeable; a finding of whether it is noticeable or unsightly is a factual finding made by a workers’ compensation judge upon inspection at a hearing from multiple distances and the Judge’s analysis placed on the record. A finding of permanency of the disfigurement is a threshold issue. Either there must be an opinion of a medical expert that the scar is permanent—as good as its going to get, or the law provides for a presumption of permanency at one year post a surgical procedure or burns resulting in the scarring.
The amount of benefits to be awarded, if found compensable, are very subjective in nature and are paid out as a period of weeks of total disability benefits based on an injured workers’ compensation payable rate. This rate is typically 2/3rds of one’s average weekly wage (gross earnings over the four 13 week periods preceding the work-related injury and averaging the highest three 13 week periods). Scarring disfigurement benefits range from around 10 weeks per inch of the scar up to or even exceeding 50 weeks, depending on the location and severity of the scar. For instance, a raised scar on one’s forehead or cheek will typically pay larger benefits than an unraised slightly discolored surgical line on one’s neck. Benefits awarded for severe burns are even harder to predict when it comes to the number of weeks to be awarded, although those benefits are typically a lot higher than for surgical scarring, as burns are usually more unsightly and can require grafting and are more discoloring and noticeable.
Specific loss disfigurement benefits are payable whether or not there is a wage loss. They are to compensate someone for having to live with the potential embarrassment of a disfigurement, even though the injured worker can perform all aspects of his/her job and is not losing any wages due to the scarring. If you believe you have sustained a disfigurement as a result of a work related incident you should speak to an experienced Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorney.