The Act provides that a worker who is permanently and totally disabled as a result of a job-related injury (the legal conclusions of the trial court in workers’ compensation cases are reviewed de novo on appeal), is entitled to receive 66 ⅔ percent of her average weekly wage for the remainder of her life. According to mortality tables published by the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations, a female worker at age 20 has a life expectancy of 57.04 years or 2,976 weeks . If that same worker is found to be 99 percent disabled, she will be entitled to receive benefits for no longer than 300 weeks, and then she must subtract the number of weeks of temporary total disability benefits she received. This chasm is particularly unfair to high wage earners.
A recent case illustrated this chasm: the value of a 99 percent disability in a given case was about $50,000 while a 100 percent disability had a present value of about $450,000. While there is considerable money between 99 percent and 100 percent in this case, there are no percentage points between 99 percent and 100 percent, and a judge has no discretion to award anything in the gray area between 99 percent and 100 percent. Moreover, because of the “$220 cap” discussed below, this particular worker would have received no greater benefits if the court found her to be 32 percent disabled than she would at 99 percent disability. As a result, judges are left to make very difficult decisions in cases which frequently pit vocational experts against other and whose opinions are on opposite poles from each other. This chasm is one of the most unfair aspects of the Act and can work severe financial hardships to injured workers.