Workers’ comp kicks in when you suffer a sprained or broken ankle at work. See what kind of benefits or settlement you can expect.
In one recent year, over 92,000 workplace foot and ankle injuries were reported. The average cost of ankle claims alone was $17,000 in medical expenses and nearly $13,000 in wage replacement costs.¹
The most common types of ankle damage are sprains and bone fractures.
Sprains and fractures can happen in many different ways, from “turning” an ankle while walking on an uneven surface, to violent falls and machinery accidents.²
While mild sprains can keep you off your feet for a few days, some workplace accidents can leave you with disabling injuries.
Serious ankle damage can keep you out of work for months, and some injured workers are never able to return to work. Here’s how to get fair compensation.
What To Do After Hurting Your Ankle at Work
Get Immediate Medical Care
Workers with a suspected ankle fracture should be taken to the emergency room for immediate evaluation and medical treatment. If the worker was injured by a fall, car accident, machinery accident, or any other violent incident, call 911.
Workers with traumatic injuries are often in shock, or so pumped up with adrenaline that it masks the pain and other injury symptoms. If you’re the one injured, cooperate with the people trying to help you.
Continue Follow-Up Treatment
After your immediate medical needs are met, you will be seen and treated by a doctor approved by the workers’ comp insurance company. Don’t make excuses for your injury, or joke about not watching where you were going.
You may still qualify for workers’ comp when your injury is an aggravation of a pre-existing medical condition. When you’re treated for your work accident, be sure to clarify that your current symptoms started from the recent work injury, not the prior injury.
Apply for Workers’ Comp Benefits
Eligible employees should qualify for workers’ comp coverage for work-related ankle injuries. Workers’ comp benefits pay medical and therapy bills, and approximately two-thirds of your lost wages while you’re unable to work.
Notify your employer as soon as reasonably possible after hurting your ankle. Ask for the claim forms and instructions you’ll need for filing your claim.
Notifying your employer is not the same as filing a workers’ compensation claim. File the completed claim forms with the appropriate office as soon as possible.
Returning to Work with Medical Restrictions
Recovery from a work-related ankle injury may take a week or two, or several months. If your ankle sprain or fracture requires extended recovery time, at some point your doctor may release you to return to work with limitations, like seated-only tasks.
If your employer offers you a job that accommodates your medical restrictions, you must return to work or risk termination of your worker’s comp benefits.
Some employers will go ahead and pay your pre-injury wages if you return to work while still recovering from a workplace injury, even if you’re not very busy. However, if the seated-only job pays less than you were making prior to the injury, worker’s comp wage benefits will pay a portion of the difference in your wages.
Your employer may not have a job that meets your restrictions. Worse, your employer may not be able to keep your job open until you recover. You can be laid-off or fired after a workplace injury, so long as the firing is not in retaliation for reporting a workplace hazard or filing a workers’ comp claim.
Example Workers’ Comp Settlements for Ankle Injuries
You wont need legal advice to file a claim for a mildly twisted ankle. Most sprains, and even a simple ankle fracture, will probably heal without complications.
Medical benefits are paid from the date of your injury. Wage replacement benefits may be delayed for a few days, depending upon your state’s workers’ compensation laws. States with a wage benefit delay often pay retroactively to the injury date if you are still off work after the delay period.
Example: Sprained Ankle at Work
Lisa makes $12 an hour/$480 per week working for a grocery store that offers curbside pickup. Customers park in numbered parking spaces, open the trunk of their car, and an employee loads their grocery order.
While pushing a cart of groceries to a waiting customer, Lisa stepped on an uneven spot in the parking area, rolling her ankle. Co-workers ran to her aid, helping her hop back into the store. Lisa’s ankle was swelling and very painful. She was taken to the local hospital emergency department.
After X-rays ruled out a fracture, Lisa was diagnosed with a Grade II ankle sprain. The doctor advised Lisa to stay off her foot entirely for ten days, then spend another ten days gradually bearing weight.
Lisa missed three weeks of work. She completely recovered from her rolled ankle.
Medical bills: $1500
Lost wages benefit ($320/week x 3 weeks): $960
Estimated Workers’ Comp Settlement Value: $2,460
Lisa completely recovered from a relatively minor work injury. She didn’t need to hire a personal injury lawyer to file an ankle injury claim or pursue a settlement. Her medical bills were covered by workers’ comp, and she received two-thirds of her lost wages.
Severe ankle fractures caused by traumatic work accidents can leave the worker with a permanent total disability, or more commonly, a permanent partial disability.
If you’ve suffered a severe or complex broken ankle, after extensive treatment your doctor may determine you’ve reached maximum medical improvement (MMI), meaning your ankle won’t get any better with further treatment. Your doctor will then assign an impairment rating to represent the percentage of lost use for your ankle.
Most state’s workers comp programs use a loss rating schedule to calculate lump-sum settlements for permanent disabilities. The insurance company will use the loss schedule to determine the wage replacement amount for your permanent ankle injury.
Find out if your state uses a loss schedule by contacting your State Workers’ Compensation Office.
Typically, the lump sum is calculated using the maximum allocation of lost weeks, the impairment rating, and your weekly wage benefit.
Example: Roofer’s Ankle Shattered in Fall
Ernest was working on a second-story roof when some loose shingles started sliding under his feet. Unable to catch himself, Ernest fell from the roof, landing feet-first on the home’s walkway. His right foot took the brunt of the impact, shattering his ankle and heel bones.
Ernest was rushed to the nearest trauma center by ambulance, where a CT scan revealed extensive damage to his ankle and foot. Surgical repair of the broken bones in Ernest’s foot and ankle required placement of several pins and screws.
Months later, a second surgery was required to place bone grafts in sections of his ankle that failed to heal. After two surgeries and months of physical therapy, Ernest was left with chronic pain and swelling, and limited range of motion.
The orthopedic surgeon determined Ernest’s ankle would not get any better and assigned a 50% impairment rating. Ernest’s weekly workers’ comp wage benefit is $600.
Where Ernest lives and works, the loss on an ankle/foot qualifies for a maximum of 205 weeks of wage benefits.
50% of 205 weeks = 102.5
102.5 x $600= $61,500
Ernest is entitled to a workers’ comp wage settlement of $61,500 for his serious ankle injury.
Ernest’s settlement is only for the wage portion of his worker’s comp benefits. He will continue to be covered for reasonable and necessary medical treatment. Workers’ comp will not compensate injured workers for pain and suffering.
Types of Work-Related Ankle Injuries
The most common work-related ankle injuries are strains or tears to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. More serious injuries can include dislocations and fractures. In severe cases of torn tissues or fractures, surgery may be necessary, but it should always be a last resort.
Classifications of Ankle Sprains
There are two different classifications of ankle sprains: Anatomic (the severity of damage to tissues in the ankle) and Functional (how the sprain affects your ability to walk or bear weight on the ankle).
Anatomic classification of ankle sprains:
- Grade I – ligaments are strained (overstretched)
- Grade II – partial tearing of one or more ligaments
- Grade III – complete rupture (tear) of one or more ligaments
Functional classifications of ankle sprains:
- Grade I – the worker is able to fully weight bear and walk
- Grade II – the worker walks with a noticeable limp
- Grade III – the worker is unable to walk
The higher the grade, the longer anticipated recovery. Grade I ankle sprains should heal in one to two weeks. More severe Grade III ankle sprains may require 6 to 8 weeks to heal.
Non-surgical ankle treatment may include:
- Rest – staying off the ankle
- Elevating the foot and ankle to reduce swelling
- Wearing an orthopedic boot or cast
- Compression wraps
- Medications to treat pain and inflammation
Most Common Types of Ankle Fractures
The ankle has three main bones connected to bands of soft tissues. Breaking an ankle at work may be a clean fracture to a single bone, or catastrophic ankle trauma involving several bones and surrounding soft tissues, like the Achilles tendon.
Three bones make up the ankle joint:
- Tibia – shinbone
- Fibula – smaller bone of the lower leg
- Talus – a small bone that sits between the heel bone (calcaneus) and the tibia and fibula
Four most common types of ankle fractures:
- Lateral malleolus fracture: This is the most common type of broken ankle. It is a break of the lateral malleolus, the knobby bump on the outside of the ankle (in the lower portion of the fibula).
- Bimalleolar ankle fracture: This second-most common type involves breaks of both the lateral malleolus and of the medial malleolus, the knobby bump on the inside of the ankle (in the lower portion of the tibia).
- Trimalleolar ankle fracture: This type involves breaks in three sides of the ankle: the medial malleolus of the tibia, as well as the lateral malleolus and posterior malleolus (in the lower portion of the fibula).
- Pilon fracture (also called a plafond fracture): This is a fracture through the weight-bearing “roof” of the ankle (the central portion of the lower tibia). This is usually a higher energy traumatic injury resulting from a fall from a height.
Ankle fractures may be displaced or non-displaced:
- Displaced means the broken ankle bones are out of alignment. Surgery (open reduction) is usually needed to put the displaced bones back together, often with pins to hold the bones in place until they heal.
- Non-displaced mean the bone is broken, but still in alignment. The ankle may be stabilized using an orthopedic boot or cast.
The cost of an ORIF (open reduction and internal fixation) ankle surgery can range from $3,000 for an outpatient procedure to more than $14,000 for an operation that requires a hospital stay.
Occupational Risk for Ankle Injuries
Slip or trip and fall accidents are the leading cause of on-the-job ankle sprains and fractures. Accidents can happen at any workplace, but some occupations run a higher risk of ankle hazards.
Common causes of workplace ankle injuries include:
- Falls from heights
- Being caught or compressed in heavy machinery or other objects
- Repetitive motions
- Vehicle accidents
Workers at higher risk for ankle breaks and sprains include:
- Construction workers
- Nurses, nursing assistants
- Delivery persons
- Auto mechanics
- Restaurant servers
- Loading dock workers
Serious work-related injuries, like a severely fractured ankle that might leave you crippled for life, are high-dollar insurance claims. Your employer’s insurance company will work to protect their bottom line, not your best interests.
If you’ve suffered a serious or complicated injury while on the job, you’ll need an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.
An attorney will look out for you from the start of your claim. For example, insurance companies often miscalculate an injured worker’s weekly wage benefit. You can bet the error will be in their favor, not yours.
Most personal injury attorneys offer free consultations, and most states limit attorney fees in workers’ compensation cases. It costs nothing to find out what a good attorney can do for you.
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Injured Ankle at Work Questions
I’m a nurse. During an emergency code blue in my department, after calling for help, I was rushing back to the patient to initiate CPR …