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Section 34A - Permanent and Total Disability Benefits
What Is It?
M.G.L. Chapter 152, Section 34A, is known as permanent and total disability benefits. This is the section of the Massachusetts workers comp law that provides weekly disability benefits for employee's who have sustained injuries at work that render them totally disabled from working on a permanent basis. As the name of this section implies, one can receive these weekly disability benefits indefinitely. There is no limit as to how long someone can collect Section 34A benefits.
On Section 34A, an employee is entitled to 2/3rds (or 66.666%) of their pre-injury average weekly wage. So, if an employee were making $1,500 per week before getting hurt, if he or she is found eligible for Section 34A, they would receive ($1,500 x 66.6666%) = $1,000 per week.
Who Can Get It?
Anyone, potentially. There is no age limit, nor is this section reserved for people in various occupations. Literally, any worker who sustains a serious enough injury can potentially be eligible for Section 34A benefits.
How To Get It
Generally, someone who sustains a work related injury is not deemed to be permanently and totally disabled right away. Cases like this generally follow a similar process. That process usually means the employee will collect either Section 34, temporary total disability, or Section 35, temporary partial disability benefits first. Usually, the person will collect Section 34, however, in some instances, they can collect Section 35. The point is that in the vast majority of the cases, the injured employee should be close to exhausting one of the temporary disability sections before putting a claim in for Section 34A. What this means, practically, is that the issue of permanent and total disability may not come to the forefront until several years after the initial injury.
Why is this the case? While there is no written rule that cases should follow the pattern illustrated above, Administrative Judges generally do not award permanent and total disability benefits without the employee at least collecting one of the temporary sections first. The reasoning behind this isn't hard fact, but it is a reasonable assumption that whether or not an injury is "permanent" is a question that gets answered over time. Injuries that are quite severe can sometimes have quick and complete recovery. This is not uncommon.
There are, however, certain injuries that are so severe that a claim for Section 34A benefits may take place earlier on in this timeline. However, the vast majority of cases follow the pattern of exhausting the temporary sections first, then filing for Section 34A close to their exhaustion.
Is Section 34A Hard To Get?
Not necessarily. However, the various workers comp insurers certainly do not want to pay under this Section. That is because if they accept liability under this section, that essentially means that they'll have to pay weekly benefits indefinitely. Further, the settlement value of such cases is, under most circumstances, the highest for workers compensation cases.
For more information on settlement value, see the following links:
The point is, the value of cases under Section 34A is the highest in workers comp cases. Insurers almost never voluntarily pay under this section. What does this mean? It means that case will have to go through the workers comp litigation process. While this isn't the same for every case, the normal process is as follows. First, a claim will be filed. Eventually, the case will come on for a Conference in front of a Judge. Depending upon what the Judge does at conference (either ordering beneifts, or denying them), the aggrieved party will almost always appeal. On appeal, the employee will be seen by a Board Impartial Physician. Then the matter will be heard at hearing (a trial, essentially). After the trial process, the Judge will write a decision. There are appeal options following a decision, which we will not get into here. However, if the case is not appealed, the Judge's decision is final. This is a lengthy process that generally takes the better part of a year, if not slightly longer.
Is There Any Way To Get Off Of Section 34A Once On?
Technically, yes. However, it is rare. The Insurer can always raise the issue of present disability and argue improvement in the Employee's condition.
If you've sustained an injury at work, you should speak with an experienced north shore workers comp lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced Massachusetts workers comp attorney can help ensure that your rights are protected following an injury at work.
At Troupe Law Office, we have been actively representing injured workers and their families for over 45 years.
Call us any time for a free consultation of your case..