Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ithaca Lawyer Explains Impairment versus Disability

People love to throw around words. Sometimes I do the same thing, use the wrong words in the right context or the right words but in the wrong context. Ah I love words, their origin, their power, and most of all their ability to express.

In the world of personal injury law two terms are often misused. Impaired and disabled are not the same thing although they are used interchangeably. Someone can have a great impairment with NO disability and yet a small impairment with a COMPLETE disability. Can people be impaired and disabled? yes. Can people be impaired but not disabled? yes. Can people be disabled but not impaired? this one is a NO.

How does that work?

Impairment always relates to function or the ability to use a part or system of the body.
Disability always relates to a specific job or vocation.

In order to determine a degree of disability (the ability to perform a job) a doctor or vocational expert would need to know what the physical and/or mental requirements of that job are. To walk a certain distance, stand for a specific time, to lift x pounds x times, to carry, etc. Someone could have a partial disability (can do a part of their job) or a complete disability (can do none of their job duties).
NOTE: When someone is classified as completely disabled that means they can't do ANY job. Their disease, dysfunction, impairment, and problems so affect them they cannot be employed.

In order to determine a degree of impairment a doctor must test (examine and evaluate) the area of the body in question for function. This may include x-rays, MRI, CT scan, neurological testing (NCV, EMG), muscle testing, etc. and a physical exam. Physical exam testing includes: ROMs (ranges of motion) both passive and active, strength, reflexes, and orthopedic tests for abnormalities (disease/injury). Putting all this together leads to a diagnosis (what is wrong?), prognosis (predicted future), and an impairment rating (in degrees) based upon the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment or some other manual.

The Job is important in the overall determination. Someone that needs their hands to do their job ie. a concert pianist, would be completely disabled if they lost a finger (a relatively small impairment). While an attorney would have no disability if they lost an arm or a leg ( a large impairment). In other words, they could still perform their job.

See my You Tube video Impairment vs. Disability here:


Dr. Lawrence A. Newman, D.C., J.D.
Chiropractor and Attorney

Law Offices of Lawrence Newman
504 North Aurora Street
Ithaca, NY 14850

1 comment:

  1. Words are words. Used as weapon to tyranny and expressing emotions.

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