Each year, millions of Americans are hurt at work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2018 alone, employers reported 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries. In that same year, 5,250 people died as a result of injuries and accidents at work. Employees who are injured or become ill at work — and family members of individuals who die as a result of a workplace injury or illness — may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under New Jersey law.
The concept of workers’ compensation is relatively straight forward: if you are hurt or become ill as a result of your work, you can receive benefits. In practice, however, workers’ comp can be much more complicated. This is particularly true in situations where the insurance company challenges your claim or sends investigators to follow you in order to disprove your claim.
When you are unable to work because of a work-related illness or injury, getting benefits is critical to both your medical recovery and your financial stability. If you have been hurt or became ill while working, a New Jersey workers’ comp lawyer can help you file a claim and fight for your right to benefits.
Who Is Covered Under New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation Law?
All employers in the state of New Jersey must carry workers’ compensation coverage, except for those who are covered by federal programs. Alternatively, employers can self-insure, subject to approval by the New Jersey Commissioner of the Department of Banking and Insurance. Self-insurance means that in the event of a claim, the employer pays benefits out of its own pocket, instead of the claim being paid by insurance.
Under the workers’ comp system, benefits are available for workers who are injured or who contract an occupational disease while working. As a general rule, only employees are covered under New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation Law. Independent contractors cannot file a workers’ comp claim.
However, employers often misclassify employees as independent contractors to avoid paying certain taxes and benefits. In these situations, your lawyer may be able to argue that you are entitled to benefits.
Importantly, workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. This means that you do not have to prove that your employer did something wrong in order to receive benefits. However, in most cases, you cannot file a personal injury claim if you have been injured at work.
What Benefits Are You Entitled to Under the Law?
In New Jersey, there are 5 types of benefits that you may receive for your work-related injury or illness. These include:
Medical benefits: include all necessary and reasonable medical treatment, prescriptions, and hospitalization.
- Temporary disability benefits: available for injured workers who are disabled for a period of more than 7 days, at a rate of 70% of their average weekly wage, up to a maximum of 75% of the Statewide Average Weekly Wage (SAWW) and no lower than 20% of the SAWW. Benefits are terminated when the workers are released to work or have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI).
- Permanent partial benefits: if a worker suffers a permanent partial disability, they may receive weekly benefits after temporary disability benefits end. For injuries to the arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet, toes, eyes, ears, or teeth, these benefits are based on the Schedule of Disabilities; all other injuries are considered non-scheduled.
- Permanent total benefits: if an injured worker cannot return to any type of work, they may be entitled to these benefits for an initial period of 450 weeks. If the injured employee still cannot work after that time, they may continue to receive permanent disability benefits. These benefits are paid weekly based on Permanent Total Benefit Rates.
- Death benefits: the dependents of a worker who dies due to a work-related illness or injury may be eligible for these benefits, which are weekly payments of 70% of the worker’s weekly wages. Surviving spouses, children, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, brothers, and sisters may all be considered dependents, based on the facts of the case. Death benefits also include up to $3,500 for funeral expenses.
If you have been hurt or developed an occupational illness, you should consult with a New Jersey workers’ compensation law firm to determine what benefits you may be eligible for under the law.
How Do You File for Workers’ Compensation in New Jersey?
If you are hurt or become ill at work, there are several steps that you should take to protect your right to compensation. First, notify your employer as soon as possible, but no later than 90 days from the accident or diagnosis. This notice does not need to be in writing and can be given to anyone in authority at your job, such as a supervisor or the company’s human resources department.
If your injury or illness requires medical treatment, you should make a request to your employer as soon as possible. Under New Jersey law, your employer or its insurance carrier can select health care providers to treat your injuries.
In some cases, the insurance company or your employer will simply pay your workers’ compensation claim in accordance with the law. If there is a dispute over your entitlement to benefits, then you can either file a formal Claim Petition or an Application for an Informal Hearing with the Division of Workers’ Compensation. Both formal and informal claims must be filed within 2 years of the date of the injury or diagnosis of the illness, or within 2 years of the last payment of compensation.
Filing a claim for workers’ compensation can be difficult, as there are a number of specific laws that govern both formal and informal claims. For example, requesting an informal hearing does not stop the 2-year statute of limitations from running. If you file an application for an informal hearing and the case is not resolved to your satisfaction within 2 years, then you may be barred from bringing a claim.
Most workers’ compensation petitions are settled before the case goes to trial. In situations where the claim is not settled, then the matter will be heard and decided by a judge. If you disagree with the outcome, the decision can be appealed to the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court.
The Division of Workers’ Compensation recommends that workers who have been injured at work or developed an occupational illness retain a New Jersey workers’ comp lawyer to assist them. Under New Jersey law, workers’ compensation attorneys cannot charge a fee in advance for legal services. Instead, legal fees are awarded by a judge, only if a compensation award is made. These fees are generally limited to 20% of the total settlement and are paid by the injured worker and the employer.
Learn More from an Experienced Lawyer
Workers’ compensation laws are designed to set up a fair procedure for receiving benefits after you have been hurt or become ill at work. These laws are often difficult to understand. Missing a deadline or failing to file the right paperwork may mean that you cannot get the benefits that you deserve.
At Bross & Frankel, we have decades of combined experience representing injured workers in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Our firm is devoted to helping people get the benefits that they need to move forward with their lives after a workplace injury or illness. To learn more or to schedule a free claim review, contact our office today at 856-795-8880, or reach out online.
Rich Frankel is the managing partner of Bross & Frankel. He is a member of the New Jersey and Pennsylvania bars. He has focused exclusively on disability and social security benefits since 2005.
Mr. Frankel joined what is now Bross & Frankel after having watched his father struggle with disability, fighting a lengthy illness. Mr. Frankel founded the firm’s veteran’s law practice and substantially grew the social security disability practice, focusing Bross & Frankel’s ability to fight for all of the disability benefits available to his clients.
Mr. Frankel additionally fights for clients in court, obtaining frequent victories in Social Security appeals and against insurance companies in Federal court.