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The process for evaluating the severity of permanent disabilities due to workplace injuries for the purpose of determining workers’ compensation benefits has long been a matter of considerable controversy in California. The state’s disability rating system has been criticized as being inconsistent and prone to promote disputes over the appropriate level of permanent disability benefits. This monograph follows up on an earlier interim briefing on California’s permanent disability rating schedule. Here, the authors provide a systematical evaluation of California’s permanent disability ratings system that was used prior to the state’s 2004 workers’ compensation reform efforts. They examine the extent to which workers with higher disability ratings experience higher earnings losses, and the extent to which workers with similar ratings for impairments in different parts of the body experience similar earnings losses. Among other analyses, they examine the consistency with which physicians evaluate the same injuries. They discuss the implication of these results, for California and potentially for other states, with a focus on interpreting the results in light of the recent reforms.

The research described in this report was conducted by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice, a unit of the RAND Corporation. This research was sponsored by the California Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation.

This report is part of the RAND monograph series. RAND monographs present major research findings that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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