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Warnken, LLC Attorneys at Law, Attorneys & Lawyers, Pikesville, MD

A Statistical Analysis of Maryland Workers’ Comp Claims in Response to ProPublica and NPR’s Workers’ Compensation Piece

Maryland Workers Comp Arm Injury Value ProPublica

Virtually no one calls attention to the plight of injured workers in America. So when ProPublica and NPR did an in-depth quantitative and qualitative article on workers’ compensation last week, I was pleased. The article highlights how devastating – and how devastatingly unfair – workers compensation is in America. The story describes injured workers who are unprotected by their employers, by insurers, and by the system. It describes what my clients go through on a daily basis.

Initially, before I saw the statistical part of the story, I said, “Finally, someone is calling attention to the plight of my clients!” I fired off a blog post partially about it. One of the attorneys who works with me, Rebecca Smith, was called by the Baltimore Business Journal for her reaction to the story. That piece is here.

Joe Flacco’s Arm Isn’t Even Worth $301,600

Then I saw the statistical piece of the story. It’s an incredibly impressive chart comparing workers’ compensation systems around the country. The work that went into it must have been immense. Super impressive. However, it’s not correct. That’s what I’d like to talk a little bit about. And I’m uniquely qualified to do so.  note: Clearly not qualified to do so since I’m incorrect.

In 2012, I completed a study of 284,330 workers’ compensation claims in Maryland from 2002 through 6/30/12. I published a book, The Comp Pinkbook, with a complete analysis of claims from 1/1/11 through 6/30/12. I reviewed 24,022 Maryland comp awards. Arm injuries, as an example, were the 9th most common injury. The average award for an arm injury was $15,004.

The ProPublica/NPR chart said a Maryland workers’ compensation arm injury could be worth $301,600. Of course, the ProPublica statistics are about an arm that’s 100% disabled – the most an arm could be worth. $301,600, they said. Here were the four highest awards, with the corresponding employer, for arm injuries according to the Comp Pinkbook:

  • $225,000 – Verizon
  • $184,815 – Kelly Services
  • $150,000 – L W Wolfe Enterprises
  • $140,000 – Alvarados Tree Service

I dare say, I do not believe Joe Flacco would get $301,600. And if Joe Cool wouldn’t, nobody in Maryland would.

It’s the Same Across the Board

It’s not just the value of arm injuries that are overstated, it’s every injury. I have published some of these statistics before…

The ProPublica/NPR statistical piece overstates the value of Maryland workers’ compensation injuries. They state their methodology here. However, when looking at Maryland’s permanent partial disability rates, you see the value of an arm is 300 weeks, not to exceed $754 per week, or $226,200. That’s the max. $301,600 likely comes from 300 weeks at the state average weekly wage of $1005. That doesn’t factor the cap. See WCC rates for more. The methodology, at least for Maryland, is flawed. Note: my assumptions about ProPublica’s methodology were incorrect.

By the way, if you only earned $300 per week, like so many of the poorest among us, that arm would be worth $60,000. $80,000.

A Gift Horse

Nobody ever talks about workers’ compensation. Most personal injury lawyers won’t even touch workers’ comp. It’s a pain in the you know what. The attorneys’ fees are low, the system can be excruciating, and clients never get enough. (And you never know until the very end which clients were faking it. You find out because those are the 2% of clients who are happy when they get their final check.)

So I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. ProPublica and NPR did impressive work. This story needs to be read! However, it also must be said that the accompanying statistical analysis piece overstates what injured workers actually receive. Moreover, at least for Maryland, the methodology is flawed.  Note:  The chart is not an accurate representation of what the average injured worker receives, but their methodology is correct and the chart is an accurate representation of what the average injured worker could receive.

Byron Warnken and Rebecca Smith are Baltimore area workers’ compensation lawyers.