Posted by: Byron Warnken on Jan 18, 2017

Contributed by Warnken, LLC


Every workers’ compensation case is different, and, often even tougher to reconcile, every state has different laws with respect to workers’ compensation.  Workers’ compensation is intended to provide wage replacement and medical benefits to injured workers.  In most jurisdictions, it’s also designed to compensate injured workers for the permanent disability they sustained.  For example, if a worker has a shoulder injury on the job and is deemed to forever have a 20% permanent impairment to that shoulder, the injured worker is entitled to benefits.


The amount of these permanent impairment benefits vary widely from state to state.  However, one thing is consistent… the injured worker never gets enough for serious injuries.  For example, the table below contains average values in Maryland workers’ compensation cases based on a study of more than a quarter of a million claims and more than 25,000 permanent disability awards.





Average Settlement





























very small




























Please note the values are averages and maximums for Maryland only.  The full statistical study of claims, the Comp Pinkbook, is available on Amazon.  A deeper dive into values for particular injuries are available at MDCompLaw.


As you can see, the average case is not nearly enough money for the injured worker.  (Bear in mind, this is always compensation for permanent injuries.  By definition, those injuries will remain.  Thus, we’re not talking about small, irrelevant injuries.)  Even though the maximums might seem like a lot, I can’t imagine the person who would willingly trade an entire limb for $308,100.


ProPublica did a comprehensive study about the maximum compensation available for various body parts in workers’ comp.  The study can be found here.


Workers’ compensation is sometimes referred to as the “grand bargain.”  The bargain is this: Workers agree not to sue employers for their injuries in the traditional sense and employers agree to provide medical coverage, wage replacement, and, in some cases, modest compensation for the permanent injury. 


The best bargains are often bad for both sides.  I’m sure employers wished they didn’t have to pay anything for employees who get hurt on the job.  Therefore, many employers view the bargain as not so “grand.”  Ask any worker who has traded an arm for a little more than $300,000 if they think the bargain is grand, and you are likely to hear the same lack of satisfaction.


Whether or not the “bargain” is still a bargain can be argued ad nauseum.  What can be said with certainty is that in the 115 years since the first workers’ compensation laws were passed, workplaces have gotten significantly safer.  Employers and insurers find it cheaper to make workplaces safer than to pay workers’ comp benefits.  As such, workers’ comp laws benefit everyone.  If workers’ comp protections erode, the average worker’s safety erodes.


As you can see above, the average workers’ compensation case does not pay enough to the injured worker.  However, the system, as a whole, makes everyone safer.


About the author

Byron Warnken is a workers’ compensation lawyer in Baltimore.  His firm, Warnken, LLC represents injured workers and victims of negligence.  Warnken, LLC also represents the Maryland Troopers Association, the largest labor organization of active and retired Troopers in Maryland.


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