The basics of the New Jersey workers’ compensation system

October 8, 2014

New Jersey was one of the first states to establish a system of workers’ compensation wherein work injury and occupational diseases are automatically covered financially by employers regardless of fault. Employers no longer needed to worry about being hauled into court repeatedly. Likewise, employees were relieved of the expense and difficult burden of suing their employers, often impossible for average workers.

Valid workers’ comp claims exist in New Jersey for workers who are injured in the course of their employment or who contract employment-related illnesses, including mental or emotional impairments. New Jersey workers’ compensation law provides for four basic types of benefits: temporary disability, medical, permanent disability and death. Benefits are normally equal to 70 percent of wages with minimum and maximum amounts.

Temporary disability

Eligible injured or sick workers are entitled to up to 400 weeks of temporary disability compensation when they cannot work for at least seven days as a result of the work-related harm. Temporary benefits end when the worker can return to employment or has reached maximum improvement. Employers who withhold or delay valid payment of temporary benefits are subject to a 25 percent penalty payable to the claimant as well as related legal fees.

Medical expenses

According to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, known as LWD, the employer or its insurer must pay for the “necessary and reasonable” medical care for injuries “arising out of and in the course of employment.” Covered medical expenses normally include prescriptions, hospitalization and rehabilitation. In most circumstances, the employer may choose the treating doctor.

Permanent partial or total disability

Complicated New Jersey workers’ compensation statutes specify certain physical injuries that automatically qualify for partial or total disability. Called “scheduled” losses, the law considers the amputation of particular limbs like fingers, hands, arms, legs, feet, toes, and looks at visual and hearing losses. However, nonscheduled impairments can also be the basis of permanent disability benefits.

Work fatalities

When a New Jersey worker dies from a workplace accident or occupational disease, his or her dependents are entitled to compensation in the form of a percentage of the deceased’s wages. Covered dependents automatically include the surviving spouse, the employee’s minor children and children in the worker’s household who are full-time students under 23 years old.

Other people who may be eligible for dependency benefits if they were totally or partially supported by the deceased include parents, stepparents, grandparents, children, stepchildren, grandchildren, siblings, half siblings, nieces and nephews. New Jersey workers’ compensation law controlling exactly who is eligible, the amount of benefits and the length of eligibility is complex.

Death benefits also include payment of the costs of the worker’s last illness, and burial and funeral expenses up to $3,500.

Legal counsel

Consultation with an experienced New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney is important because workers’ comp law is complicated and an injured worker and his or her family may have to fight against the employer and its insurer for appropriate coverage.

In addition, despite the designation of workers’ compensation as the exclusive remedy for employment-related harm, a lawsuit may be available against an employer or co-worker for a work injury caused by “intentional wrong,” or against a negligent third party such as the manufacturer of defective work equipment or a commercial landlord that allowed hidden dangers to exist on the work premises. Such suits outside the workers’ comp system may allow recovery for pain and suffering not available in the workers’ compensation claim.