Most people think that all workers’ compensation claims are the same, no matter where they are filed, but the truth is that just as every state has its own particular processes and procedures for filing and hearing these claims, each state also has its own unique variations on the rules. Nowhere is this more obvious than when it comes to New Jersey’s laws regarding permanent partial disability. Let’s take a look at how the state views this particular compensation classification.
The first thing that you need to understand is that where other states tend to determine compensation by looking at how much compensation a worker has lost as a result of their disability, in our state the calculation is based on two separate types of benefits. The first type of benefit is for temporary disability, and it indeed focuses on actual wages lost as a result of the disability. This benefit ends once the worker is ready to come back to work or has been determined to be at maximal medical improvement. But that’s not where things end in the state of New Jersey, because the state also looks closely at whether a loss of function has occurred, and calculates permanency payments based on that determination.
Importantly, loss of function is not limited to the ability to resume or continue doing the same work that the injured employee once did: it extends beyond that and includes the loss of ability to pursue non-work activities that the employee once enjoyed. This means that even if you are able to go back to your old job but – as a result of your work injury – you are no longer able to participate in 5K running events as you once did, or you can no longer pick up your grandchild – you are entitled to a loss of function award.
So how do you go about proving this type of loss? It all starts with filing a claim petition in the Division of Workers’ Compensation. Once this step has been completed, your ability to get permanent partial disability depends upon whether or not there is objective evidence such as a CT scan or medical record that can be entered into evidence or the strength of your own personal testimony. If you do not have that type of medical record of the harm that you’ve suffered, the court will rely upon your own description of the impact that the injury has had on your life, whether on your ability to continue doing the same work as before or your ability to engage in quality of life activities outside of your work environment. The court will ask numerous questions about previous activities and how the injury has impacted your ability to do them.
Your employer’s insurance company will prepare a permanency evaluation that will inevitably offer a far lower assessment of your level of disability than the one provided by your attorney: that’s one of the reasons that it’s so important to use an attorney who does their homework and ensures that you have medical documentation to support your own disability assessment. The testimony of the permanency expert your attorney sends you to is invaluable in proving your claim.
It is important to remember that there are no specific guidelines in the state that prescribe a specific percentage of ability lost to specific injuries: the judge will make a determination based on the testimony that they hear. There are, however, scheduled awards for some specific injuries such as fingers and hands, but these scheduled awards tend to be valued at a lower rate than are unscheduled awards such as those involving injuries to other body parts such as back, hip, or internal injuries.
When filing for permanent partial disability, it is important to remember that there are certain things that can work against your ability to get the compensation that you believe is appropriate. These include the existence of a related or similar disabling condition prior to the injury that you’re filing for, or if you are engaged in outside activities or work that belie your testimony about your inability to participate in normal activities. Either of these types of circumstances will act as counterweights to your claim, so it is essential that you work closely with your attorney and convey all relevant information.