Specific-Loss Benefits under the Maine Workers’ Compensation Act
Maine, like all states, has a workers’ compensation statute, and like many (if not all) of the others Maine’s law includes a provision for specific-loss benefits. Sometimes called scheduled benefits, these benefits are payable to employees who suffer work-related, permanent losses of specified body parts or functions from a list. Specific-loss benefits do not require any loss of income, although many people with such injuries doubtless need some time off work to recover. The payment is not a set amount of money but instead results from a calculation: a specific number of weeks of benefits (which varies according to the injury) multiplied by the worker’s weekly compensation rate (which is generally two-thirds of his or her average weekly wage, subject to various exceptions and a cap). The specific losses range from lost digits to lost limbs and lost eyes; they also include “incurable insanity or imbecility,” permanent and total loss of vision, and permanent and total paralysis of both legs or both arms. Some things that someone might assume are covered are not: for instance, loss of hearing (unless it is caused by industrial noise), lost genitalia, sterility, or a totally severed nose. Keep in mind, though, that someone with such an injury may still be eligible for lost-wage compensation and medical-expense payments.
So, if Employee A earns $400 per week (pre-tax), gets no fringe benefits, and suffers a permanent loss of a thumb from a work-related accident, he or she is due 39 weeks of compensation, payable at a rate of $266.67. That yields a total of $10,400.13, not a huge amount of money; and I know I would rather keep my thumb than get that sum or even $28,000, which, per my calculations, is almost the maximum amount payable for the permanent loss of a thumb at work this year. If Employee B makes the same amount per week and loses both eyes at work, he or she may be entitled to 800 weeks of compensation. I definitely would prefer not to lose my eyes, even though that hypothetical injured worker would be due $213,336 (assuming the claim were proven).
Of course, it is impossible to calculate a purely monetary value for the loss of a body part. I mean, I could estimate my lost earning potential if I lost a finger or a foot, but I don’t know how I could put a price on the effects on my ability to cook, take care of my cats, or work out at the gym. I can barely imagine how it must feel to lose, for example, the ability to walk or to look at one’s children, not to mention the depression or anxiety that such severely injured people must feel when they realize the extent of what they can no longer do. These are the “human factors” that the state legislature attempted to address when it enacted laws that would require payment of scheduled benefits. It isn’t a perfect solution, but, if the harm is permanent and irreparable, then it’s the only solution the system can offer.