Yes, the results of a functional capacity evaluation could be one of the factors used to determine the amount of your workers’ compensation settlement. Workers’ comp is a no-fault insurance system that covers the work-related injuries and occupational diseases of most employees in Virginia.
If you’re injured on the job, you’re generally entitled to file a claim for workers’ comp benefits to pay your medical bills and reimburse two-thirds of your lost wages. To file a claim, you don’t have to prove negligence on your employer’s part, and you cannot be fired or penalized for filing.
Understanding Impairment Ratings
If your workers’ comp claim is accepted by your employer’s insurance company, you should receive weekly wage benefits until you reach the stage of maximum medical improvement (MMI). If, however, you’re left with a permanent partial disability (PPD), your doctor might give you an impairment rating in percentage form. If you’ve hurt your shoulder, for example, and have only 85% of the strength and range of motion you previously had, the doctor will give you a 15% impairment rating.
Job Restrictions Based on Impairment Ratings
If your previous job required physical activity involving your shoulder, your impairment rating might lead to job restrictions because you can’t perform all the tasks that you carried out before. In such a case, your employer can offer you a “light-duty” job. If this new job pays less than your old one did, you might be eligible for ongoing benefits to cover two-thirds of the difference between your old and new salaries.
If your employer has no light-duty job available, you might be offered a settlement to compensate you for future lost wages. Because such a settlement is apt to be costly, the insurer, its attorneys, or your employer might request a functional capacity evaluation (FCE) to confirm your impairment rating. The FCE will determine exactly what physical activities you can and can’t perform.
What Is a Functional Capacity Evaluation?
The FCE consists of a series of physical tests that measure the range of motion and strength you’ve lost in your injured body part. These tests are usually conducted by a physical therapist who is provided with your job description. The FCE typically includes:
Physical Ability Test
The therapist administers baseline physical tests and rates your ability to:
- Sit, stand, and walk
- Pull, push, and lift objects
- Reach above your head
- Ascend ladders and stairs
- Hold and handle an object with your hands
- Stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl
The therapist will record data regarding your reflexes, flexibility, muscle tone, and range of motion of your injured body part(s). The musculoskeletal test also gauges your ability to stand straight and walk.
The therapist will observe your gait and posture, record your heart rate, and see how long you can walk or run on a treadmill.
The therapist will ask and record your answers to questions about injury, medications, medical treatment, and physical therapy thus far. It’s important that you respond honestly and in detail. Doing otherwise could damage your benefit claim.
Do Your Best
The therapist administering the FCE will be trained to identify intentional underachievement on the tests listed above, so it’s important to make an honest effort and do the best you can on every portion of the FCE. Doing any less could harm your claim for benefits.
FCEs Involve Subjective Interpretation
There are different types of FCEs, and the methods of scoring them are not the same in every case, so there is subjectivity involved in the FCE process. Furthermore, some doctors giving impairment ratings are more knowledgeable about and experienced with FCEs than others. Your employer’s insurance company might cite FCE subjectivity in order to challenge a high impairment rating and give you a lower settlement than you deserve.
If the insurer has a relationship with the doctor assessing your test results, it might even encourage that doctor to overlook your poor performance on the FCE so that it can save money on your claim. In such a case, the services of a workers’ comp lawyer are generally required to help you seek a fair settlement.
How an Attorney Can Help
If your employer’s insurer ignores or misinterprets your FCE results in order to reduce the amount of your settlement, your lawyer can assist you by:
- Calling in a vocational specialist and other expert witnesses to examine your test results and weigh in on your ability or inability to perform job duties
- Requesting an independent medical exam
- Representing you in a hearing before the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission
- Appealing your case in civil court
Because the interpretation of your FCE results and the settlement you’re offered can significantly impact your life, you’re well advised to consult a workers’ comp attorney who can level the playing field for you by standing up to your employer and the insurance company.