Average Weekly Wage – What’s that all about?

If you are injured at work in North Carolina, then you are entitled to Workers Comp benefits.  One of the most important calculations that you or your attorney will make at the beginning of your case is your “average weekly wage”.  Many people mistakenly believe that this amount is simply your stated weekly salary – but that’s not the whole truth.

Your average weekly wage includes a number of other inputs that the insurance company will conveniently leave out if they are allowed to calculate this number for you.  For example, your average weekly wage should include the following items:

  • Any overtime you have been paid
  • Mileage checks
  • Per diem checks
  • Tips
  • A value for the use of company vehicles
  • Any other item which comes to you as salary or pay in the form of either cash or goods (excluding health insurance or other benefits)

The reason this number is so important is because the Average Weekly Wage is used to calculate your weekly benefit checks if you are unable to work because of your injury.  The insurance company will pay you 2/3 of your Average Weekly Wage – so if this number is not correct, then you could be short-changing yourself hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over the course of your claim.  To make matters worse, if and when you go to mediation to resolve your claim, the insurance company will use the average weekly wage calculation to determine a potential lump sum payout amount.  The wrong calculation could lead to an artificially low settlement amount.

If you have questions about your average weekly wage, and feel that it is lower than it is supposed to be, then please call us at (919) 460-5422.  We would be happy to review this information with you so that the insurance company can get it right.

*In Most cases, the average weekly wage amount in improperly calculated in favor of the insurance company.  However, if you ask for a recalculation and you received too much compensation, then you run the risk of the insurance company either asking for a lump sum payment from you, or withholding checks until the arrearage is paid back.  For this reason, it is important that you consult with an attorney prior to requesting a recalculation of your average weekly wage.

The Rehab Nurse – Who do they really work for?

If the insurance company decides to accept liability for your workers comp claim, then they are able to direct your care.  As part of that care, the insurance adjuster will assign you to what is called a Rehabilitation Nurse to manage your care.  According to the NC Industrial Commission Rules for Utilization of Rehabilitation Professionals in Workers’ Compensation Claims, the purpose of these Rehabilitation Counselors is to provide for the “medical and vocational rehabilitation of the injured worker”.

The North Carolina Industrial Commission has also provided a brief summary of these “Rehab Rules” for the injured worker.

Although the Rehab Professional is supposed to be working to help you with your care, in reality they are working for and with the insurance company to assist in the effort to terminate your Worker’s Compensation benefits.  The Rehab nurse is an employee of the insurance company, and often times works side-by-side with the adjuster assigned to your case.  These nurses have a clear understanding of who signs their paychecks and how their company makes money.  No bones about it – they will do what they can to turn off your benefit checks.

While we encourage all of our clients to follow closely the instructions of the Rehab nurse very carefully, there are some things that you need to watch out for which are clear violations of the Rehab Rules outlined above.  If you nurse engages in any of the following behaviors, it is a violation of the Rehab Rules and you should contact an attorney immediately:

  1. They attempt to tell the doctor what to do or when to release you to return to work;
  2. They attempt to tell the doctor where to send you for an MRI or physical therapy, or they tell the doctor which specialist to refer you to;
  3. They attempt to give you legal advice regarding the merits of your claim or tell you what will happen if you go back to work;
  4. They are corresponding with doctors or other healthcare providers or to the insurance adjuster without copying you on those communications;
  5. They are talking to your doctor without you being present, or they insist on sitting in on your examination with your doctor; or,
  6. They try to get you to sign a release that authorizes them to talk to your doctor without you being present.

There is another type of rehabilitation specialist called a Vocational Rehab professional, whose job is to find you a new job.  The pitfalls related to these professionals will be discussed in a future post.