May
23
2012
0

Ever Wonder Where 4.6% Comes From?

Where did this SAWW come from anyhow?

Where did this SAWW come from anyhow?

Even with the recent Baker v. WCAB decision settling when the increase in state average weekly wage (SAWW) is applied, litigation continues over the precise future SAWW percentage to use in a commutation of life pension benefits. The DEU is currently using an assumed annual SAWW increase of 4.6% “based on a 50 year average.” [1]

Before we consider how the DEU calculates future SAWW increases, it is necessary to look back to past SAWW changes.  In the last 50 years there have been only two instances where the SAWW has decreased from the prior year.  Since Labor Code Sections 4659(c) and 4453(a)(10) only apply increases in the SAWW to life pensions and permanent total disability benefits, there is no effect on the benefit rates for those two years.

When the DEU indicates a historical 50-year average of SAWW increases, they mean exactly that.  Thus, instead of averaging the decreases in the SAWW with the increases, the DEU averages only the increases of the historical SAWW data.  (I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up – 2004 and 2011 are the only instances in the last 50 years of any reduction in the state average weekly wage).  An average of just the SAWW increases over the last 50 years does come to 4.6%.

If you’re interested in verifying this information for yourself, I’ve prepared a list of the data used by the DEU in computing the 50-year average of SAWW increases.

  1. Andrea Marutti via Compfight []
Dec
18
2009
1

Permanent Total Disability Benefits – deja vu all over again

Double dip done right

Double dip done right

Some commentators have suggested that the recent Duncan v. WCAB (X.S.) case creates a “double dip” for injured workers entitled to permanent total disability benefits. [1]  While I would take issue with much of that commentary, I would agree that permanent total disability benefits are affected by changes in the state average weekly wage twice under Duncan v. WCAB (X.S.).  Of the four benefits in California workers’ compensation system that are affected by changes in the SAWW, only permanent total disability benefits are affected twice.

It took the patient guidance of a very smart friend to help me to understand how this works:

  • When determining the proper starting rate for a permanent total disability case, you must first turn to Cal. Labor Code § 4453(a)(10).  This statute dictates that the limits (as in the statutory minimum and statutory maximum limits) are to be increased by the increase in the state average weekly wage (or SAWW).
  • However, according to Cal. Labor Code § 4659(c) as interpreted by Duncan v. WCAB (X.S.), the benefit rates themselves are then increased by the increase in the state average weekly wage (or SAWW).

Is it “double dipping” to have both the upper/lower limits and benefit rates increased by the SAWW?

Perhaps, but that’s what the two statutes say and what the Court of Appeals has decided.

  1. Photo courtey of alex012 []
Dec
17
2009
0

What benefits are affected by the SAWW?

Getting a handle on the SAWW

Getting a handle on the SAWW

Four benefits in California workers’ compensation are affected by changes in the state average weekly wage (or SAWW).[1]

  1. Temporary total disability benefits
    • The maximum and minimum benefit rates can be affected by the SAWW.
    • “Commencing on January 1, 2007, and each January 1 thereafter, the limits specified in this paragraph shall be increased by an amount equal to the percentage increase in the state average weekly wage as compared to the prior year.”  Cal. Labor Code § 4453(a)(10).
  2. Life pension benefits
    • The statutory life pension rates are now increased by the SAWW as directed by the recent Duncan v. WCAB (X.S.) case.
    • “For injuries occurring on or after January 1, 2003, an employee who becomes entitled to receive a life pension or total permanent disability indemnity as set forth in subdivisions (a) and (b) shall have that payment increased annually commencing on January 1, 2004, and each January 1 thereafter, by an amount equal to the percentage increase in the “state average weekly wage” as compared to the prior year.”  Cal. Labor Code § 4659(c).
  3. Permanent total disability benefits
    • First, the minimum and maximum limits for permanent total disability benefits are increased, then the benefit rates themselves are increased.
    • “Commencing on January 1, 2007, and each January 1 thereafter, the limits specified in this paragraph shall be increased by an amount equal to the percentage increase in the state average weekly wage as compared to the prior year.”  Cal. Labor Code § 4453(a)(10).
    • “For injuries occurring on or after January 1, 2003, an employee who becomes entitled to receive a life pension or total permanent disability indemnity as set forth in subdivisions (a) and (b) shall have that payment increased annually commencing on January 1, 2004, and each January 1 thereafter, by an amount equal to the percentage increase in the “state average weekly wage” as compared to the prior year.”  Cal. Labor Code § 4659(c).
  4. Death benefits
    • “A death benefit in all cases shall be paid in installments in the same manner and amounts as temporary total disability indemnity would have to be made to the employee, unless the appeals board otherwise orders.” Cal. Labor Code § 4702(b).

Did I just describe two increases to the permanent total disability benefit rate?  Huh, so I did.

Tune in tomorrow for more on Duncan v. WCAB, COLA’s, and SAWW increases!

  1. Photo courtesy of Sean Venn []
Dec
16
2009
0

SAWW increases for 2004-2010

Putting some teeth in the SAWW

Putting some teeth in the SAWW

We’ve all seen charts with the State Average Weekly Wage (“SAWW”) increases printed on them.[1] But, how useful are these when you’re dealing with an opposing counsel who won’t accept your chart or calculations based on that chart?

It sure would be nice to have all the SAWW information from the Division of Workers’ Compensation all in once place.  Well, it just so happens I’ve already done this for you.

Here is a copy of every DWC Newsline from 2003 through 2009 with information on every SAWW increase from 2004 through 2010, all ready to go in one handy-dandy PDF.

DWC Newsline SAWW Increases 2003 through 2010

Share and enjoy!

More on Duncan v. WCAB, COLA’s, and SAWW increases tomorrow!

(Don’t forget to download a copy of Duncan v. WCAB here!)

  1. Photo courtesy of Aeioux []
Dec
15
2009
1

Duncan v. WCAB – summarized

Mini version of Duncan v. WCAB

Mini version of Duncan v. WCAB

In the spirit of my recent post summing up Ogilvie II and Almaraz/Guzman II in just three sentences each, I bring you a summary of the recent Duncan v. WCAB decision in just one sentence:[1]

The COLAs found in section 4659, subdivision (c) should be applied to life pensions or total permanent disability compensation as from January 1, 2004.[2]

Yes, that’s really it.  The Duncan decision consists mostly of background and discussion.  The actual decision is basically that one line above.

Come back tomorrow for more information about SAWW increases, COLA calculations, and more!

(Don’t forget to download a copy of Duncan v. WCAB here!)

  1. Photo courtesy of MarkAllanson []
  2. Duncan v. WCAB, page 18. []

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