Disabled New Mexico Residents May be Eligible for Lifetime Assistance

TTD benefit duration limits have been lifted in the state of New Mexico

In last month’s Sherrie Fowler v. Vista Care disability case, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that temporary total disability (TTD) benefits are no longer subject to time limits. Aid is available “for the remainder of a worker’s life”, as long as the individual has not reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). MMI means that the condition is stabilized and cannot improve; either the employee is fully recovered or no medical change is to be expected.

Background on the Case

Sherrie Fowler injured her back while working for Vista Care in April 2003. She underwent back surgery later that year and received temporary total disability assistance until 2006, when her doctor deemed she had reached MMI and she received a lump-sum payment for permanent partial disability benefits. Fowler was continually treated for her condition, and in 2007 it was determined by her doctor that her injury had worsened. It was recommended that Fowler receive another back surgery, which was eventually completed in 2010.

Because her condition was deteriorating, Fowler filed a complaint with the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Administration seeking additional TTD benefits. Fowler’s employer, Vista Care, began paying her TTD benefits from the date of her last surgery, but was doubtful if that procedure was related to Fowler’s original work injury. A judge ruled that Fowler was owed payments from 2007, when a doctor deemed that she was no longer at maximum medical improvement. This revealed that under New Mexico law, temporary total disability assistance isn’t subject to the same time limits – 500 to 700 weeks of coverage – as permanent partial disability benefits.

Details of the Court Ruling

Because it is unknown whether her injury will ever fully heal or stabilize in condition, Fowler could potentially receive TTD benefits indefinitely. She may be eligible for assistance through the rest of her life, so long as her condition renders her incapable of work. However, Fowler’s case will continue to be revisited as years pass.

The court recognizes that people can become more or less disabled over their lifetime, and that if someone is completely and totally restricted, he or she may receive benefits until this is no longer the case. Ultimately, until a claimant heals or goes back to work, he or she may receive monetary assistance.

What This Means for You

Unless you are a citizen of New Mexico, this disability court ruling does not apply to you. The specific regulations and time brackets put in place for injured and disabled employees vary per state, so look up your state’s laws for clarification, or contact us to help you. However, this could be a sign of change to come within your own state, so stay tuned for further related news!

If you would like more information about your eligibility to receive disability benefits, please call toll free at (800)-248-1100 or click here for more information.