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Does Surgery Increase Your Workers’ Comp Settlement?

Written by
A drawing of the lead workers' compensation lawyer for Atticus.
Victoria Muñoz
Lead Attorney
October 18, 2022  ·  3 min read
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If you’ve sustained a serious injury in the workplace, you’re dealing with two complicated situations at once: getting medical care to recover and applying for workers’ compensation.

As part of your care, it’s possible that a doctor might offer surgery as a treatment option. Such an important choice leaves a lot to consider. If you’re wondering how surgery would impact your workers' comp benefits, you’re not alone.

Surgery can increase, or decrease, your workers' comp settlement amount depending on the surgery type and surgery timing. Let’s dig into how surgery may impact your claim and how workers’ compensation benefits are calculated.

Will surgery increase my workers' comp benefits? 

Undergoing surgery has very real physical and emotional impacts. Above all, we recommend making the right choice for your health — not for the possible increase in payout.

While surgery can in some cases increase your benefits, it’s not guaranteed, and you would never want to put yourself in a position of making a major medical choice on a gamble.

The reality is, workers’ comp payments differ depending on the surgery, the timing, and the result. Here are three key factors to consider:

  1. The timing of the surgery

  2. The results of your surgery

  3. The type of surgery

1. Timing of surgery

Typically, workers’ comp settlement offers are low before there is a diagnosis or recommendation for further treatment — including surgery. If a medical professional makes a recommendation for surgery, this will almost always increase the initial settlement amount.

However, if you have a successful surgery and your injury improves before settlement negotiations are completed, it could lower the overall settlement value. While workers’ compensation should cover the cost of your surgery — your successful surgery may demonstrate that you now need less medical care, or you are able to return to work without additional lost wages. In this case, less compensation would be required (but you’d also be healthier!).

2. Surgical results

On the other hand, you may have a surgery that’s less successful. If this occurs before the settlement negotiations end, and the surgery worsens your injury or causes further complications, it might increase the settlement. But it will certainly be worse for your long-term health.

3. Type of surgery

Due to their severity and perceived impact on your ability to work, some types of surgeries will merit a higher or lower settlement. For example, a carpal tunnel surgery will yield lower settlement value than a lower back I5-S1 injury.

All of this points toward carefully weighing the pros and cons of surgery with your medical doctor. You can’t count on surgery as a tactic to increase benefits. More than anything, take this time to get aligned with your doctor, follow their instructions, and build an ally for your case.

Settle your workers' comp claim today.

What exactly determines a workers' comp settlement? 

To understand your workers' comp settlement, it’s important to understand there are two phases of workers' comp when you can receive payments:

  • Active phase: This is when you’re out of work and receiving treatment to improve your injury. If your claim is accepted, you’ll receive wage replacement at this time, a percentage of your previous wages, and an additional amount for treatment costs. 

  • Maximum medical improvement: At this stage, a doctor determines you’ve reached a plateau in your recovery and may not keep improving. If your injury leaves with a lingering medical impact, you may be entitled to additional payments. The duration of these payments varies by state, and they're designed to cover continued medical costs and, potentially, financial damages due to lost wages from your continued inability to work.

Further reading: When Will Workers' Comp Offer a Settlement?

How are workers' comp benefit payments calculated?

Your benefits will be calculated based on a variety of factors, such as injury type, severity, medical care, and your ability to return to work. The diagnosis you receive from your doctor often has the biggest impact on these payments. 

Much of these calculations are negotiable. A lawyer can negotiate your “medical rating” (which comes from your doctors’ diagnosis) — which is directly correlated to your payment amount. They can also negotiate whether you’re receiving adequate care at any stage of the process.

Learn more in our guide to how much workers' comp pays in every state.

The best way to maximize your payment

Workers’ comp is complex and it varies wildly by state. How your doctor diagnoses you and how you frame your case make a major impact on benefits. Hiring a lawyer who understands the system ensures the best possible care and support for your future. 

At Atticus, we’re here to help. We’ll start by hearing your story and offering free legal guidance — if you wish to connect with a lawyer, we’ll connect you with one from our trusted network.

No one should have to go through an injury alone — get free, personalized legal advice now.

Get workers' comp help today.

Frequently asked questions about workers’ comp settlements

Do all workers’ comp cases end in a settlement?

Not all workers’ comp cases end in a settlement, but many do. Claims that will continue after you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI) may especially lead to a settlement. Injuries with short recovery times are less likely to result in a settlement, but you can still request one.

When will workers’ comp offer a settlement?

You can receive a settlement offer at any point in the process, but settlements commonly happen either early on or around the time you reach maximum medical improvement. Read more in our guide to when workers' comp will offer a settlement.

Should I accept a workers’ comp settlement?

We recommend getting a lawyer’s opinion before you make any decision related to a workers’ comp settlement. It’s important that you negotiate enough to cover your current and future medical expenses, plus enough to cover your other bills when you’re out of work. Knowing how much to ask for and how to negotiate for the highest amount are things a lawyer can help you with.

How much does workers’ comp pay if I don’t settle?

People on workers’ comp receive payments equal to a percentage of the wages they earned before their injury (usually two-thirds). Here’s how much workers’ comp pays by state.

How long after a workers’ comp settlement do I get paid?

You should plan to wait at least one to three months after a settlement before you actually get your payment, but that timeline depends on multiple factors. Your lawyer or the insurance company will have a more specific answer for your settlement.

Are workers’ comp settlements taxable?

No, workers’ comp settlements aren’t taxable. Other workers’ comp benefits aren’t taxable either, with rare exceptions.

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How long ago did you get an injury or illness at work?

A drawing of the lead workers' compensation lawyer for Atticus.

Victoria Muñoz

Lead Attorney

Victoria Muñoz is an attorney on Atticus’s Workers' Compensation team. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of Stanford Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking workers' compensation. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and spending time with her pup.
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