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Workers' Compensation - No Fault System

In California, one of the fundamental differences between workers’ compensation and other types of cases is that an injured worker does not have to prove that his/her work injury occurred because the employer was at fault (negligent or intentional). Simply put, set aside some exceptions, the workers compensation system in California is a no fault system. However, as a trade off in not having to prove negligence to get compensation, damages such as pain and suffering, loss of earnings and loss of enjoyment of life which are recoverable in personal injury cases, are not recoverable in the workers’ compensation system in California.

Instead, damages are calculated based on permanent disability. For example, when a worker injures his/her arm, a doctor will calculate a whole person impairment number using the American Medical Association’s Guide to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. Thereafter, this impairment rating is plugged into a formula which produces a permanent disability rating number. The dollar amount the injured worker is entitled to for his/her permanent disability is obtained by using a permanent disability money chart which correlates the permanent disability number to a specific dollar amount. The direct correlation between the permanent disability number and a specific dollar amount begs the question, how much is an arm worth?

Although, the workers’ compensation system covers expenses for reasonable medical care and temporary disability benefits, there may be a fundamental problem in making the injured worker whole in terms of earning capacity because at times, there is no meaningful relationship between an injured workers' permanent disability and loss of earnings capacity. 

Joseph Lee