What Types of Conditions are Covered by Arkansas’ Workers’ Compensation?

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The Arkansas Workers’ Compensation program covers most physical injuries sustained by employees in a work environment. The program covers accidental injuries that aired out of one’s employment. These injuries must be the result of a specific work related incident that is identifiable by time and place. However there are exceptions to these general provisions and certain conditions that have their own decision-making guidelines. Many of these exceptions fall under the “major cause” requirement. This means that the resultant condition is the “major cause” for the onset of disability or the workers’ death. A “major cause” is one that contributes more than 50% of the cause. Before looking into the special handling of certain types of conditions, let’s first examine the general benefits payment provisions of the workers’ compensation system.

When are disability benefits paid?

As per A.C.A. § 11-9-501(a)(1)-(3), workers’ compensation payments to an injured employee are typically not allowed for the first 7 days following the day of injury. Payments can typically begin for the 9th day of disability, but if the disability period extends for two weeks or more, then payment can be made for the first day of disability following the day of injury.

If death occurs the potential benefits are enumerated in A.C.A. § 11-9-527. Potential benefits include funeral expenses and other financial compensation subject to the limits of §§ 11-9-501 — 11-9-506. For instance, a widow would have first preference in receiving death benefits at 35% of the workers’ average weekly wage provided that there is no dependent. If there is a widower and a child, 35% will be paid to the widower plus 15% for each child.

How are for workers with a pre-existing disability decided?

Workers’ with a previous disability or a pre-existing condition presented an interesting problem for the workers’ compensation system. While the system must fully protect the worker, it also must not hold the employer liable for a greater disability or impairment than actually developed or occurred while the worker was employed. To meet this challenge, A.C.A. § 11-9-525 creates The Second Injury Trust Fund. The fund will pay a previously disabled worker who suffers an additional injury, “the difference between the employer’s liability and the balance of his or her disability or impairment that results from all disabilities or impairments combined.”

Are mental injuries compensable?

As per A.C.A. § 11-9-113(a)(1) mental injuries are not generally compensable. However a mental injury may be eligible for compensation if the mental injury was the result of a physical injury to the employee. That is, while a worker who suffers a mental injury due to teasing would not likely be covered. However a worker who suffers a mental injury due to facial disfigurement is likely to have a compensable injury. If the worker was a victim of a crime of violence, then the mental injury is also likely to be compensable.   While A.C.A. § 11-9-113(b)(1) limits benefits for mental injuries to 26 weeks, A.C.A. § 11-9-113(b)(2)(A) states that if death due to the mental injury occurs within 1 year then the compensation should be paid as in other cases where death occurs.

How are heart and lung conditions decided upon?

A.C.A. § 11-9-114(a) states that, “cardiovascular, coronary, pulmonary, respiratory, or cerebrovascular accident or myocardial infarction causing injury, illness, or death is a compensable injury only if, in relation to other factors contributing to the physical harm, an accident is the major cause of the physical harm.” What this means is that your heart, lung or circulatory condition must be more than 50% of the reason why you are disabled. Furthermore, to  be compensable, § 11-9-114(b)(1) requires that either the work that caused the heart, lung or circulatory disability was “extraordinary and unusual in comparison to the employee’s usual work” or that, “some unusual and unpredicted incident occurred”, that was the major cause of the harm.

Other conditions that receive special treatment in workers’ compensation

The disfigurement of a workers’ head or face is one condition with a statutorily defined treatment.  A.C.A. § 11-9-524(a) states that workers’ who suffer a permanent facial or head disfigurement shall be awarded compensation not to exceed $3,500 so long as the award is entered 12 months or more following the injury. Likewise, A.C.A. § 11-9-117 authorizes the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission to, “enact medical diagnostic and treatment guidelines regarding occupational carpal tunnel syndrome”, with the joint recommendation of business and labor groups. Disability to hearing loss and occupational diseases like asbestosis and silicosis also receive their own statutorily defined treatment.

In short, the Arkansas workers’ compensation system can provide cash benefits to you or your family if a disability prevents you from working. However, understanding the system and its requirements is essential to securing your benefits promptly. For your free and confidential legal consultation, contact the workers’ compensation lawyers at the Kieklak law Firm by calling (479) 251-7767 or contact us online today.

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