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Bionic Arms Now Available – Should Total Perm. Disability Still Apply?

Happy Friday, dear readers!

Your humble blogger admits that, when I was but a child, just knee-high to a grasshopper, I thought a prosthetic arm or hand was basically what Captain Hook had from the Robin Williams Peter Pan film, “Hook.”  As an aside, if you haven’t seen the movie, you really should – Robin Williams does not disappoint.

What was it? A choice for amputees of either utility (a hook) or aesthetics (a non-functioning prosthesis made took like a hand).

Recently, your humble blogger saw an article about a Mr. Nigel Ackland, who lost his right arm below the forearm in an industrial blender accident and was left without work.  Enter “be-bionic,” which provided Mr. Ackland with a bionic arm, attached at his elbow.

Now, Mr. Ackland uses the bionic hand for “everyday tasks [like] two-handed like driving, typing, shopping and washing his hands.”

Looking at the AMA guides, Figure 16-2, an amputation just below the elbow is worth 57% WPI.  Applying the 1.4 modifier for an injury today, without accounting for age or occupation, you’re looking at 80% PD, which is already a life pension plus the base of $172,042.50.  That’s the PD alone.

And, of course, amputation of both hands is total permanent disability – life pension.

If such a bionic arm and hand set is available, do these numbers still apply?

Think about it – just this one bionic hand brings an injured worker to almost pre-injury functioning.  Surely there’s some PD, and future medical and TD (of course), but are we still in the same category for permanent disability when an injured worker can return to work with such a tool?

The same applies for double amputation – Labor Code section 4662(a)(2) provides for total permanent disability for the “loss of both hands or the use thereof.”  Do we need to start revising this language, especially as it appears that one can “lose” both hands but retain “the use thereof” through bionic ones?

Your humble blogger submits to you that we must come to realize that much of the language and thinking surrounding workers’ compensation is rooted in somewhat obsolete thinking about the nature of industry and the practice of medicine.  Should an army field medic equipped with today’s techniques and tools be guided at all by a Civil War era surgeon, who primarily focuses on amputations? The phrase “chop-chop” now means to hurry, but during the days of what some refer to as the “Northern War of Aggression,” it was basic medical doctrine.

Have a good weekend!

robot arm thumbs up

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