The Dangers of Functional Capacity Exams for Injured Maritime Workers

Maritime employers and injured employees have one thing in common after an on-the-job accident: they want the worker to get better as quickly as possible. Employees are often itching to return to work even if they are still suffering from their injuries, and maritime employers are keen to stop paying workers’ compensation benefits. For this reason, the Functional Capacity Exams and Injured Maritime Workers employer may request that any Jones Act or maritime worker who has suffered a significant injury to submit to a functional capacity examination (FCE).

A functional capacity exam offers a way for a doctor to determine the employee’s physical limits after an injury, allowing the employer to make accommodations for disabilities or offer alternative employment. While this may sound like a good idea, the FCE is also a way for the employer’s medical experts to gather information against the employee that can hurt his benefits claim.

What Can I Expect in My Functional Capacity Exam?

While an independent medical exam (IME) is used to determine if an employee can return to work, the functional capacity exam determines how much of his former job (if any) the employee is able to do. Each FCE is tailored to the specific job details and injury complications of the worker. Since these examinations are often ordered by the employer and are performed by the employer’s medical experts, it is a good idea to consult a maritime injury attorney before attending the exam.

A full FCE may be done over two or three days, and involve activities that determine the worker’s:

  • Physical strength. Common exercises involve lifting and carrying weights of increasing heaviness, grip strength measurements, and the ability to push or pull heavy objects.
  • Range of motion. Flexibility exercises often test the worker's ability to twist at the waist, shoulder, or neck while sitting or standing, as well as the ability to stretch and bend.
  • Maximum functional activity. Doctors should establish how long an employee can do common activities without pain or fatigue, including walking, standing, sitting, and stair climbing.
  • Stamina. Workers may be asked to walk on a treadmill, do squats, or sustain a kneeling or crawling position for several minutes.
  • Coordination. Doctors may test coordination and balance, especially if the employee performs elevated work or suffers from vertigo.
  • Mental and emotional state. The examiner may ask the employee a series of questions throughout the examination. Questions may be related to the worker’s pain, common activities, or the employee’s thoughts and feelings about the injury.

If the physician is unfamiliar with essential job functions or does not have experience with your type of maritime injury, you could be cleared to return to work before you are able—placing your future health at risk. Our Jones Act and maritime injury lawyers can fight on your behalf to get you the compensation you are owed under the law. Contact us online or call us directly at 212.465.8840 to set up an appointment at Hofmann & Schweitzer today.

 

Paul T. Hofmann
Focused on personal injury, with an emphasis on maritime, railroad and construction worker tort claims.
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