Impairment vs. Disability: Understanding the difference in your workers’ comp laim

Person sitting with crutches due to a work-related accident
Last Updated on March 9, 2023 by Carlos Lopez

Two terms you may see or hear when pursuing your workers’ compensation case are impairment and disability.

While these terms may seem to describe the same thing, they are very different and their use has different implications for your case.

Here’s what you need to know about impairment and disability and how they relate to workers’ comp claims:

What is impairment?

Impairment is defined as a problem or damage to a vital structure of the body (an organ, limb, or body system, for example) or a person’s overall physical or psychological health.

If your right arm is impaired, that means it functionally does not work the way it should. The arm’s essential capability to do work is impaired, or damaged.

Depending on the system impacted and the degree of the impairment, an impairment can be permanent or temporary.

Additionally, just because a part of the body is impaired, it doesn’t necessarily impact a worker’s ability to return to work long-term.

What is disability?

Disability is a person’s inability to perform a job, usually as the result of an injury or other form of impairment. In other words, disability results from impairment, but impairment doesn’t always lead to disability.

Returning to the example that your right arm is impaired from earlier: If your job requires you to frequently utilize your right arm in a way that you no longer can, the impairment of your right arm may qualify you for disability. However, if you have a different job that doesn’t require you to frequently push your right arm past its capacity to function, that arm’s impairment isn’t likely to qualify you for disability.

Just like impairment, disability can be either permanent or temporary, depending on what is causing the disability, how impaired you are, and what job you perform.

What does this mean for my case?

In all workers’ comp cases, there is a determination of some degree of impairment. That could be that your entire body is impaired because of a car accident, or your leg is impaired because you broke it falling from a ladder.

The type of impairment and the degree of the impairment, paired with the general duties of your job, will determine whether or not you are considered disabled and the extent of your disability.

If your impairment is severe enough and impacts a part of your body that is absolutely required for your job, you may be considered disabled and receive the appropriate workers’ comp benefits. However, if your impairment doesn’t greatly impact your ability to do your job, you may not be considered disabled.

What part of your body is impaired, how impaired it is, and whether you are considered disabled after your workplace accident are important factors in determining how much compensation you receive in your claim, and for how long you receive compensation.

It’s important to discuss your case with an experienced workers’ comp attorney so you can better understand how all individual factors may impact your claim.

Experienced Workers’ Comp Attorney in Washington, D.C.

At Lopez Law Firm, we have years of experience understanding the ins and outs of the workers’ comp system in Washington, D.C. We can help you understand your case and guide you toward a satisfactory resolution so you get the compensation you deserve for your injuries. Schedule a consultation today!


  1. Paislee says:

    Wow, this article really cleared up the difference between impairment and disability! #MindBlown

    • says:

      Actually, I found this article to be confusing. It seemed to oversimplify the complex relationship between impairment and disability. I think more in-depth analysis is needed to truly understand the topic. #StillConfused

  2. Terry says:

    Wow, after reading this article, Im still confused about impairment vs. disability. Help!

    • says:

      Dont worry, youre not alone! Its a common confusion. Impairment refers to a loss or limitation of physical, mental, or sensory function, while disability is the societal restriction resulting from the impairment. So impairment is personal, disability is societal. Hope that clears things up a bit!

  3. Vida Barajas says:

    I never realized the difference between impairment and disability, but its actually quite interesting.

  4. Quentin Herman says:

    Wow, this article really cleared up the confusion between impairment and disability! Thank you!

  5. Maya Roberts says:

    Wow, this article really cleared up the confusion between impairment and disability! So important to understand for workers comp cases!

  6. Cameron Shah says:

    Wow, so impairment is like having a broken leg, but disability is needing crutches? Interesting!

    • says:

      Actually, impairment and disability are not the same thing. Impairment refers to a loss or limitation of physical or mental function, while disability is the societal disadvantage imposed on someone with impairments. Its important to understand the distinction and not oversimplify the complexities of these terms.

  7. Amber says:

    Interesting read! So impairment is like a glitch, and disability is the whole system crashing?

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