Under New Jersey law, if you are injured at work or develop an occupational illness, you are entitled to benefits through the workers’ compensation system. These benefits may include medical treatment, monetary payments, and even death benefits for people whose loved one died in a workplace accident.
The New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act establishes the workers’ comp system. To file a claim for benefits, you must follow a specific process. This includes filing a claim within the two-year workers’ compensation statute of limitations. If you fail to file your claim within this time period, your employer and their insurance company could deny your claim.
If you are hurt at work or are diagnosed with an occupational illness, a Cherry Hill workers’ compensation attorney can help. Starting with a free claim review, your lawyer will advocate for you throughout the process, including making sure that your claim is timely.
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
In the legal system, a statute of limitations is a time period for filing a lawsuit or a claim. For example, under New Jersey law, most personal injury lawsuits must be filed within two years of the date of injury. Similarly, workers’ compensation claims must be filed within two years of the date that the claim arose.If you do not file a claim (or lawsuit) within the statute of limitations, then your claim will likely be barred.
This may seem harsh, but statutes of limitations serve an important purpose. Over time, evidence is lost and memories fade. This can make it difficult for your employer to properly process your claim and determine if it is valid or not.
Workers’ compensation claims must be for injuries or illnesses that arise in the course and scope of your job. Filing your claim in a timely manner makes it easier for you to prove that your injury is work-related, as the evidence will be fresh. If you wait for an extended period of time, then there may not be enough proof available to make your claim — or for your employer to effectively process it.
The statute of limitations is stopped — or tolled — in New Jersey workers’ compensation cases when you file a formal claim. The bigger issue in many workers’ comp claims is when this time period starts.
When Does the Statute of Limitations Begin to Run for NJ Workers’ Comp Cases?
A big issue in a statute of limitations case is when the clock begins to run. In other words, if the statute of limitations is two years for workers’ comp cases, then when does that time period begin? The answer depends on whether you were injured or were diagnosed with an occupational disease, and whether your employer paid you compensation without you filing a formal claim.
For injury claims, the statute of limitations begins to run on the date that you were hurt. As an example, if you fell down the stairs at work, the two-year clock will start on the day of the fall.
However, if you have developed an occupational illness, then the statute of limitations will begin on the date that you discovered the condition and its relation to your employment. This accommodates the reality that many occupational illnesses develop over time, and do not happen on a specific date.
For example, if you work with heavy, vibrating machinery, you might develop carpal tunnel syndrome over months or years. There isn’t a precise date when the carpal tunnel syndrome happened, unlike a situation where you fell and broke a bone at work. Instead, the date that you receive your diagnosis and it is linked to work is when the clock begins to run.
The relationship to work aspect is important, as it isn’t always immediately obvious that a particular illness was caused by work. For example, if you work in a factory that makes microwave popcorn, you could be exposed to the chemical diacetyl, which is a component in butter flavoring. In recent years, scientists have discovered that inhaling large amounts of diacetyl is linked to lung disease.
Imagine that you start to experience respiratory symptoms, like wheezing and difficulty breathing when you exert yourself. Your doctor diagnoses you with asthma, but your symptoms don’t resolve with typical asthma treatments. Finally, you see a specialist who diagnoses you with “popcorn lung,” and states that your condition was caused by work. This is the date that the statute of limitations begins to run because it is the first time that (1) you were diagnosed with an occupational illness and (2) that illness was linked to your workplace exposure.
Finally, if you have an informal agreement with your employer about workers’ compensation benefits, the two-year statute of limitations does not begin to run until the date of the last compensation payment. This means that if you have an agreement for your employer to provide you with benefits — including medical treatment — you can still file a formal claim for workers’ compensation once those payments stop. You may choose to do so for a variety of reasons, including if you believe that you are still entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, the type of medical treatment that you require, or whether you are able to return to work.
Many workers’ compensation claims are handled without filing a formal complaint. If you are hurt at work and notify your employer, they should report it to their insurance company. The insurer then may choose to pay you benefits under New Jersey law if there is no dispute about (1) whether the injury or illness is work-related and (2) the level of benefits that you are entitled to receive.
If there is a dispute about some aspect of your workers’ comp benefits, you can then file a formal claim petition or an application for an informal hearing with the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC). The statute of limitations will begin to run on the date that you received your last payment.
For example, you hurt your back at work while lifting something heavy. Initially, your employer agrees to cover your medical treatment and to pay you disability benefits. After 18 months, your employer tells you that you should be able to return to work and that they will no longer pay for medical treatments or disability benefits.
At this point, you still have two years to file a formal claim for workers’ compensation — not six months. This ensures that your employer can’t “run out the clock” and prevent you from filing a formal workers’ comp claim. If you believe that you still need treatment or that you are entitled to benefits, you can still file a claim with the DWC for two years after receiving the last payment from your employer.
Employers may fight legitimate New Jersey workers’ compensation claims by arguing that they were filed outside of the statute of limitations. A skilled Cherry Hill workers’ comp attorney can fight for your right to benefits, using the facts of your case and their knowledge of the law to form a strong argument on your behalf.
How Long Do I Have to Be Out of Work Before I Can File a Workers’ Compensation Claim?
The answer to this question depends on the type of benefits that you need. For temporary disability payments, you must be unable to work for seven days before you can file a claim including weekends and holidays. At this point, you can file your claim, which will be retroactive to your first day of disability.
In other words, if you get hurt on Monday, you can file a claim for temporary disability benefits after you can’t work for seven days. These days do not have to be consecutive. If your claim is approved, then your temporary disability payments will include compensation for each day of your disability, from the Monday that you were hurt forward.
For medical and permanent disability benefits, there is no waiting period. If your injury or illness is work-related, you are entitled to receive medical treatment even if you do not miss a single day of work. Similarly, if you suffer a permanent disability due to your workplace injury or illness, you do not have to wait to file a claim for this type of benefit.
My Employer Says That I Should Have Discovered My Occupational Illness Sooner. What Can I Do?
As described above, the New Jersey workers’ compensation statute of limitations begins to run for occupational illnesses when you (1) are diagnosed with the illness and (2) discover that the illness is work-related. Employers may try to avoid paying for these types of claims by arguing that the statute of limitations has elapsed. Effectively, they are arguing that you should have known that you had this illness and that the illness was caused by work before you actually knew.
A seasoned New Jersey workers’ compensation lawyer can fight back against this type of claim. Occupational illnesses are often complex and aren’t always easily connected to your work. In some cases, you may not even realize that something at your workplace — like a chemical — was making you sick. Your attorney will gather medical and scientific evidence and make a strong argument to prove that you could not have known that your illness was work-related before a specific date.
I Filed a Request for an Informal Hearing. Does This Stop the Statute of Limitations Clock?
No. In New Jersey, if you have a dispute with your employer, over your workers’ compensation benefits, you have two options. First, you can file a formal claim for benefits with the DWC. Second, you can submit an application for an informal hearing.
Filing a formal claim “stops the clock” for statute of limitations purposes. Requesting an informal hearing will not “stop the clock.” In other words, the statute of limitations is still running while you pursue an informal hearing.
There are many good reasons why you may want to request an informal hearing. This process is often less involved than the formal claims process, and the suggestions made by the judge are not binding. The informal hearing process can help you resolve your issues and get your benefits without the complications of filing a formal claim. However, if you choose this option, you should be aware that the clock is still running — and if you need to file a formal claim, you will have to do it within two years from the date of injury or diagnosis.
Hurt at Work? We’re Here for You.
The workers’ compensation is designed to ensure that you get the benefits that you need when you are hurt at work or develop an occupational illness. If your employer or their insurance company is wrongfully denying your claim for benefits, we can help.
At Bross & Frankel, we are dedicated to helping people who are unable to work due to injury, illness, or disability. We offer free claim reviews, where we will listen to your story and explain your rights and options. To learn more or to schedule a consultation with a New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney, contact us today at 856-795-8880 or fill out our online contact form.