Wisconsin was one of the earliest adopters of workers’ compensation laws dating back to 1911. Workers’ compensation is like a no-fault system, meaning an injured worker can be compensated if the injury “arises out of” employment. Whether the employer did anything wrong or if the employer was negligent, it does not typically matter. The worker in either case receives benefits according to a series of schedules that depend on the earnings of the worker, the body part injured, and how badly injured that body part is.
How Is Workers’ Compensation Amount Determined?
There is an important number known as an average weekly wage calculated on 52 weeks of earnings, if possible. That average weekly wage is used in a formula to determine how much you are paid while off work and for any permanent disability. The department has a schedule of losses based on body parts. If you lose a leg at the knee, for example, you are entitled to 425 weeks of compensation, that is calculated, in part, on the average weekly wage. If a doctor awards a 10% disability for a knee injury, that 10% would be compared to the 425-week amputation benefit for an award of 42.5 weeks of compensation.
The compensation system is primarily for economic damages, with pain and suffering being the one major element missing from workers’ compensation damages. The economic damages that are awarded under compensation are unquestionably low. These scheduled injuries do not account for whether the individual is a very young worker, who will be affected for many years, or a worker nearing retirement. The actual losses for the same injury to a young worker would be many times that for an older worker, but it makes little difference under workers’ compensation laws.
There are also claims that are not on the schedule, such as injuries to the spine, head, or lungs. The benefits are better than those for scheduled injuries, but fall far short of awards given for the same injuries in a third-party case.