Impairment and Disability – How They Differ

Courts and insurance companies might treat two dog bite victims with the same injuries very differently. The difference may be based on the distinctions between impairment and disability. The injuries might produce the same impairments, but one victim might be disabled while the other might not. For example, a young person with a good education might function well in a new job despite his or her impairment, and therefore not be disabled, but an older person who lacks educational achievements could be unemployable because of the same impairment. Thus, only the older person would be considered disabled.

There are many other nuances to impairment and disability. How a victim is rated depends on the applicable rating guidelines. There are the AMA Guides, various state workers compensation guides, Social Security Administration (“SSA”) rules, and various international standards for impairment. For disability, there are workers compensation guides, private disability insurance criteria, state disability rules, and SSA regulations. They often differ dramatically. For example, a victim might be entitled to compensation for a partial disability under state workers compensation laws but receive nothing from the SSA because the latter requires total disability for payment.

Understanding how impairment and disability differ is crucial for presenting a successful claim. It is another reason why injured people need lawyers. For more information, see Impairment Rating and Disability Determination: Impairment Versus Disability, by Edward B. Holmes, M.D., Medscape (2022).