Total vs. Partial Disability

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 What Is Partial Disability?

A partial disability is a type of medical condition that affects a worker from performing their job duties at full capacity. This can occur when a worker is involved in an incident and sustains an injury that affects their ability to do their work, but can still carry out some of the necessary job functions for work.

For example, a construction worker who suffers a permanent back injury while doing their job may no longer be able to carry heavy construction materials. However, they may still be able to consult or perform other tasks to complete a construction or renovation project.

In some instances, a worker may be able to claim disability benefits if they sustained an injury while on the job. In order to recover benefits in such cases, a worker will need to prove that the injury was directly related to some necessary function of their work and was a result of such job duties. Partial disabilities that stem from work-related injuries may occur over a long period of time or from a single incident.

Some common examples of work-related injuries that may permit a worker to claim partial disability status include the following:

  • Chronic pain;
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome;
  • Back and neck problems;
  • Heart attacks;
  • Diabetes;
  • Gastrointestinal issues;
  • Fibromyalgia; and
  • Sensory loss (e.g., vision damage or hearing loss).

In addition, there are some work-related injuries that may involve an emotional or psychological component that may also qualify for either partial or long-term disabilities. This depends on the harm involved. For instance, a worker may be able to claim long-term disabilities for occupational stress if they can show that an emotional or psychological factor contributed to them developing physical symptoms or illnesses.

What Is Total Disability?

On the other hand, a total disability is a type of medical condition or disability that prevents a person from doing any work at all. In general, a total disability usually involves the loss of limbs, such as arms or legs, and may also include when a worker injures one or both of their hands or eyes.

A total disability may also arise when a worker develops a disease as a result of their work. This is known as an occupational disease and may include any medical disorders that prevent a person from working and from enjoying daily life activities. Such disorders may include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease;
  • Lung disease (e.g., asbestosis);
  • Multiple sclerosis;
  • Parkinson’s disease;
  • Mesothelioma; and
  • Various other conditions that fall into the criteria listed under the law.

The laws for total disability benefits only provide specific criteria rather than listing actual diseases. Thus, whether or not a person can enjoy daily life activities will be one of the determining factors applied in deciding if a person should receive total disability benefits. Some examples of daily life activities include:

  • Breathing;
  • Speaking;
  • Walking;
  • Learning;
  • Working; and/or
  • Eating.

However, not all total disabilities may be permanent. Some may only be temporary total disabilities, while others may last for the rest of a worker’s life.

What Is the Difference between Total vs. Partial Disability?

One of the main differences between total disability and partial disability is that the latter will not entirely prevent a worker from doing their job. On the other hand, a total disability is a disability that would make it impossible for a worker to perform any of their required job duties.

Another major difference between total disability and partial disability is that workers who suffer from a total disability are completely prevented from returning to their job. Thus, they are unable to earn a living. Therefore, someone who is totally disabled will receive more benefits throughout the duration of their injury than someone who is only partially disabled and can perform some of their job duties.

In addition, a worker who has a total disability will usually need to prove that they have injuries that will prevent them from returning to their job for at least a year, cannot work in any other professions, and can no longer work at the job from which they received their injury. In contrast, a partially disabled worker will only need to show that they have an injury, which stops them from performing some material job duties, but not all of them.

What Is “Permanent Disability”?

Permanent disability status means that a worker will suffer from a resulting work-related injury or illness for the remainder of their lives. In other words, they are not expected to recover from their injury or illness. Depending on whether a permanent disability is total or partial, a person may not be able to ever work full time at a job again (i.e., total) or they may only be able to work in a limited capacity forever (i.e., partial).

Some permanent total disability examples may include:

  • Losing an arm or leg;
  • Becoming paralyzed; and/or
  • Developing severe psychological injuries (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)).

A worker who has a temporary partial disability, however, is expected to eventually be able to work again. They may even be able to work in a limited capacity since their injuries or illness are only considered to be partial and not total. Thus, at some point, the worker can return to their job or a new job and continue to earn a living. For instance, breaking a leg may be considered an example of a temporary partial disability.

How Do I File for a Total or Partial Disability Claim?

The process for filing for total disability benefits and/or filing for partial disability benefits are largely contingent on federal and/or state specific laws and requirements. The process to apply for such benefits may also depend on whether a worker’s disability is considered to be temporary or permanent as well. Remember, a total or partial disability can be either temporary or permanent.

This will generally include either filing a claim with an insurance company, a state workers’ compensation program, or a federal government agency, such as the Social Security Administration. The worker must determine what types of benefits they qualify for or wish to collect, which will depend on the specific requirements of each of these entities as well as on the disability they developed.

Most of these requirements can either be found by reviewing state laws, visiting the websites for such entities, speaking with a representative in a worker’s human resources department, and/or contacting an employment law attorney. For instance, a worker who wishes to claim social security disability benefits due to having a total permanent disability can visit the website for the Social Security Administration for further information.

Can I Apply for Social Security Disability If I Have Already Received Disability Benefits through Workers Compensation?

Depending on the type of work-related injury or illness that a worker suffers and on the laws of a particular state, a worker may be able to apply for social security disability even if they already receive disability benefits through a workers’ compensation program.

A worker may be eligible to collect social security disability benefits if their injury or illness appears under the criteria for impairments. In most instances, the disability must be one that is permanent and long-lasting, as opposed to a temporary or partial condition. However, the amount of social security disability benefits that a worker can collect may be affected by other public disability benefits and workers’ compensation that they receive.

For example, a worker who already receives workers’ compensation benefits may have the amount of social security disability benefits they wish to claim reduced if they are eligible. The reason for this is because the amount of these two types of benefits combined cannot exceed 80% of a worker’s average earnings before they developed a disability. The amount a worker collects will remain at this reduced rate until they reach the age of retirement.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Total or Partial Disability Claims?

It can sometimes be difficult to determine whether a disability qualifies as a total or partial disability. Therefore, you may want to consult with either a local employment lawyer or an employment discrimination attorney in your area before you file a claim to collect disability. An employment discrimination attorney who has experience in handling issues related to total and partial disability claims can walk you through the entire process.

Your attorney can also inform you of your rights under federal and state disability laws. They will be able to help you gather evidence to support your claim or an appeal if your claim was initially denied. In addition, your attorney will be able to represent you in court if necessary. They can make sure that your legal rights are protected as they help you work towards obtaining an appropriate resolution for your matter.

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