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AMA Permanent Partial Impairment Ratings: A Virginia Lawyer’s Tool

The American Medical Association has a book in which experienced doctors and other health care providers set forth the guidelines for an orthopedic physician to assign a numeric permanent partial impairment rating that indicates the extent of person's disability due to an injury. As a Virginia personal injury lawyer who has handed numerous truck wreck cases, I use this litigation tool to better describe my clients' serious injuries to insurance companies and, if necessary, juries who must decide whether to award compensation, and in what amount, to accident victims.

For example, let's say that a person suffered a broken clavicle, torn rotator cuff and other shoulder injuries with a broken clavicle that require surgical repair. The AMA's Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment spells out how to arrive at a number that will approximate how much upper arm and total physical function that person lost to his or upper extremity injuries, which, again, indicates how disabled the person has become.

The book is currently in the sixth edition, but it is currently more common for doctors to be most with the 5th edition of the Guides. There are some differences in the way the two books may apply to a given person's injury. The main thrust of the 5th edition was to look at such things as the range of motion a person was left with after an injury to a specific body part compared to the motion a normal, healthy person should have in the same body part. The 6th edition focuses more on diagnostic codes and what the description of the injury is through that process. Factors like the number of surgeries are taken into account in both versions of the guidelines.

Normally, the permanent impairment ratings are used in workers' compensation cases as a way to show the extent of injury. However, the ratings can also be used to describe the extent of a permanent injury for a person whose case is not against their employer, but against an at-fault driver in a truck crash or other type of traffic accident. I usually use the ratings for that purpose when my client's injury is one that will leave them with a permanent impairment. This allows the insurance company to know just how severe and life-altering a personal injury was to my client.


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