How Much Is Your Arm Worth? Depends On Where You Work, by Michael Grabell, ProPublica, and Howard Berkes, NPR, ProPublica Blog
Each state determines its own workers’ compensation benefits, which means workers in neighboring states can end up with dramatically different compensation for identical injuries.
At the time of their accidents, Jeremy Lewis was 27, Josh Potter 25.
The men lived within 75 miles of each other. Both were married with two children about the same age. Both even had tattoos of their children’s names.
Their injuries, suffered on the job at Southern industrial plants, were remarkably similar, too. Each man lost a portion of his left arm in a machinery accident.
After that, though, their paths couldn’t have diverged more sharply: Lewis received just $45,000 in workers’ compensation for the loss of his arm. Potter was awarded benefits that could surpass $740,000 over his lifetime.
The reason: Lewis lived and worked in Alabama, which has the nation’s lowest workers’ comp benefits for amputations. Potter had the comparative good fortune of losing his arm across the border in Georgia, which is far more generous when it comes to such catastrophic injuries.
This disparity grimly illustrates the geographic lottery that governs compensation for workplace injuries in America. Congress allows each state to determine its own benefits, with no federal minimums, so workers who live across state lines from each other can experience entirely different outcomes for identical injuries.
Nearly every state has what’s known as a ‘schedule of benefits’ that divides up the body like an Angus beef chart. . . .