I Got Permanent Partial Disability; Can I Get Social Security Disability?

If you receive permanent partial disability benefits from workers’ compensation—or you received a lump-sum settlement—you still might be able to get reduced disability benefits from Social Security.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

Permanent partial disability (PPD) is a term used by the workers' compensation system. PPD refers to benefits received by workers who've recovered from a work-related injury (or occupational disease) but are left with some level of impairment that isn't expected to improve significantly. If you qualify for PPD, you might still be able to work, just not at full capacity. PPD is very different from total disability—which means you can't work at all.

The Definition of Social Security Disability vs. Permanent Partial Disability

As far as the Social Security Administration (SSA) is concerned, the workers' compensation definitions of disability don't really carry any weight as far as helping you get Social Security disability benefits. Social Security's definition of disability is much different than what's used in workers' comp. With Social Security, you won't be considered disabled unless you're totally disabled. (Your condition must meet the requirements of one of the SSA's disability listings, or you must prove you're unable to work at any type of job).

Because of the different disability standards used, it's not uncommon for someone to qualify for PPD but not for Social Security disability. That doesn't mean that you can't get Social Security disability if you've gotten PPD from worker's comp—sometimes you can. It all comes down to whether or not you meet Social Security's definition of disabled.

How Workers' Compensation Effects Social Security Eligibility

If you currently receive PPD through workers' compensation, or if you settled with your worker's comp carrier for a lump-sum payment for PPD, you might wonder if you'd also qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

You can receive permanent partial disability benefits for a wide range of injuries, and most people who get PPD benefits can still work. If you can still work, qualifying for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits becomes a question of how much you can work (or more specifically, how much you can earn from work). You can only get Social Security disability if:

  • you can't work full-time in any type of job, or
  • you're unable to earn more than a specified limit—for 2024, it's $1,550 per month ($2,590 if you're blind).

Earning more than the limit is considered doing substantial gainful activity (SGA), and if you can engage in SGA, Social Security won't consider you disabled.

Minor Injuries Affect PPD and Social Security Disability Differently

If you broke your ankle at work and can no longer work on steep slopes, workers' compensation might give you a permanent disability rating of 3% and pay you a small PPD benefit. But as long as you can do other jobs that don't require you to work on steep slopes (whether or not you've done that kind of work before), Social Security won't consider your impairment severe and won't grant you disability benefits.

How Social Security and Workers' Comp View Significant Injuries

At the other end of the spectrum, you could be receiving PPD benefits for a serious injury that makes it impossible for you to work.

For instance, let's say you were involved in a car accident while you were driving for work, and you're now using a wheelchair. And your condition isn't expected to improve. Worker's compensation might have given you a permanent disability rating of 80% and paid you a large lump-sum PPD settlement.

If you're in a wheelchair due to a spinal injury or other condition, Social Security is more likely to grant you disability benefits. But not necessarily. If there are any jobs you can do from a wheelchair—for instance, if you have a degree in design or accounting—you probably won't qualify for SSDI or SSI.

Learn more about how Social Security determines what you can still do despite your impairment.

How Your PPD Can Affect the Amount of Your Disability Benefits

If you do get approved for disability benefits through Social Security, your PPD will likely cause your SSDI disability benefits to be reduced. Social Security will reduce the monthly disability payment you would have gotten so that the combined amount of your SSDI and PPD won't be higher than 80% of your pre-injury income.

If you qualify for SSI benefits, those would also be reduced, but use a different calculation. For the details, see our article on SSDI and SSI payment amounts.

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