A work injury can cause major disruptions to your life—not only to your health, but also to your career, finances, and overall well-being. The workers’ compensation system in New Jersey provides medical care, vocational rehabilitation, and other services to help you get you back to work as soon as possible. Worker’s comp also pays for some of your lost income—but not all. This article explains the types and amounts of benefits that you may receive after you file a workers’ compensation claim.
If you can’t work for more than seven days because of your on-the-job injury or illness, you will be entitled to receive temporary total disability benefits. In New Jersey, these benefits are 70% of your average weekly wages before the injury, but there is a maximum and minimum that changes every year. For 2019, the weekly maximum benefit is $921, and the minimum is $246.
Temporary total disability benefits continue until you:
(N.J. Stat. §§ 34:15-12(a), 34:15-14 (2019).)
Once you've reached maximum medical improvement, your doctor will evaluate you to determine if you have any lasting disability as a result of your injury and, if so, to what extent. If you're permanently and totally disabled—meaning that you can’t work at all because of your injury—you will continue to receive weekly payments at your temporary total rate. However, once you’ve received these benefits for 450 weeks, you’ll have to go through an evaluation and prove that you underwent physical or educational rehabilitation (if ordered to do so) but are still unable to earn at your pre-injury level. If you can show that, your benefits will be extended as long as you’re still disabled, with the amount of your payments reduced in proportion to any wages that you’re actually able to earn.
Certain severe injuries—such as the loss of both eyes, hands, arms, feet, or legs, or a combination of any two—are automatically considered to result in permanent and total disability. (N.J. Stat. § 34:15-12 (2019).)
If your work-related injury or illness has left you with a lasting medical condition or lost function (often called an impairment) but you’re still able to work in some capacity, you may be eligible for permanent partial disability benefits. The amount you’ll receive will depend on the extent of your impairment and the affected part of your body, as well as on your pre-injury wages.
New Jersey provides a schedule of disabilities listing the maximum benefits for impairments to certain body parts—such as a hand, arm, foot, leg, or eye—at different levels (expressed in terms of a percentage of lost function). For example, if your foot was amputated as a result of your injury, you would receive 245 weeks' worth of benefits, at 70% of your pre-injury wages, up to a total maximum of nearly $113,000 (in 2019). But if you only lost 50% of the use of a foot, you’d receive 115 weeks' worth of benefits, up to a total maximum of $30,157 in 2019. (You can find New Jersey’s current schedule of disabilities, as well as the current maximum and minimum disability rates, on the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development site.)
For permanent impairments to other body parts (such as your head, spine, or organs), you may receive a “nonscheduled award” for a portion of the maximum time period (600 weeks) that corresponds to the level of your disability. For example, if your doctor assigns you a 10% disability rating to the body as a whole, you can receive 60 weeks’ worth of payments. Here again, the weekly amount will be based on 70% of your pre-injury wages, up to the dollar limit. (N.J. Stat. § 34:15-12 (2019).)
You may receive other types of workers’ comp benefits in New Jersey, including:
(N.J. Stat. §§ 34:15-12(e), 34:15-13, 34:15-15 (2019).)
As you can see, workers’ comp benefits cover only a portion of your lost wages and don’t include anything for the pain and suffering caused by your injury. While this may seem unfair, it is part of the trade-off inherent in the workers’ comp system. The advantage of workers’ comp is that you can get benefits relatively quickly without filing a lawsuit and proving that your employer was at fault for causing your injury. The downside is that you can’t get the full value of your losses. (However, you may be able to sue outside of the worker’s comp system in certain limited situations.)