Once the claimant has reached maximum medical improvement, a condition which is, in the opinion of the treating physician, achieved when the claimant can no longer reasonably be expected to improve substantially or deteriorate substantially in his overall condition, the physician may render an opinion as to whether or not he has fallen short of a full recovery. If the claimant has not returned to his or her baseline prior to the date of injury, the physician will assign a permanent partial impairment.
An impairment is the measurable loss of function which a physician ascribes to the injured worker. It is on a scale of 0 to 100%. In Connecticut, pursuant to CGS §31-308a, each body part is assigned a certain number of weeks. By multiplying the percentage of impairment by the number of weeks allowed for that body part, one will derive the total number of weeks for which a claimant is entitled to be paid in the specific award. This award is typically paid on a weekly basis. By way of example, 31-308A allows for a total of 374 weeks for the lumbar spine. By multiplying 374 by 10% you derive an award of 37.4 weeks of compensation for a 10% permanent partial impairment.
This “impairment rating” is often used interchangeably with the term “disability,” even in the statutes, but the two terms mean two different things. An impairment measures the loss of function of a body part, whereas a disability describes the way in which an injury affects a person’s ability to accomplish his daily activities. By way of example, a plumber who has suffered an amputation of the distal portion of his little finger may be entitled to a 5% permanent partial impairment of his hand. However, this may result in no disability to him because it will not interfere with his day-to-day activities. A concert pianist who suffers the same amputation of the distal portion of his little finger will end up with the same permanent partial impairment of 5%. However, he may have a 100% disability because he can no longer play the piano.