Work’s Compensation Benefits & Attorneys Helping Your Understand Them
In most cases, workplace injuries are not “accidental” in the sense that someone is usually at fault. Since that person could be the worker, a third party, or a combination of both, this issue often causes considerable litigation. Fortunately, injured New Jersey workers can bypass the court system and more quickly obtain compensation for items such as lost wages and medical bills via workers’ compensation laws.
Even though workers’ compensation benefits are available, they are not always easy to attain. Almost every workers’ compensation insurance company has a large number of attorneys whose only mission is to enrich the corporation’s bottom line by minimizing the amount of compensation that injured workers receive. The system sometimes creates so many delays and roadblocks that many injured victims abandon their claims altogether or settle them for less than full value.
At Hollander, Strelzik, Pasculli, Hinkes, Vandenberg & Hontz, L.L.C., our only mission is to avoid this outcome and ensure fair compensation for our clients. In our many years of experience, we have learned that hard work is the only way to accomplish this goal. We practice this work ethic in every case, and as a result, the outcome we obtain nearly always exceeds our clients’ expectations.
Insurance companies often try to take advantage of injured victims because they know the victims are not working and therefore their families are under significant financial pressure. Lawyers then try to convince the victims to accept a quick settlement rather than wait for the possibility of more money later (the old “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” approach).
To somewhat alleviate this problem, most injured New Jersey workers are entitled to 70% of their weekly wages (up to $903 a week in 2018). By law, the victim must be unable to work for seven days before the insurance company is obligated to pay benefits; the seven days need not be consecutive. Furthermore, if the insurance company fights the award (and it almost always does), awarded benefits are usually retroactive to the date of the claim.
The 70% formula assumes that the victim is temporarily disabled and will be able to return to work once the injury fully heals and physical rehabilitation is complete. If the victim is permanently disabled, the victim usually receives a lump-sum payment based on the nature of the injury and the extent of the disability. Some victims are partially disabled, which means that they are still able to perform most job functions. Other victims are permanently disabled, which means that they are unable to return to their previous jobs.
Moreover, injuries to the eyes, ears, and extremities are scheduled, which means that the payout is predetermined. For unscheduled injuries, such as back injuries, victims obtain 70% of their lost wages for up to 600 weeks, depending on the extent of the disability.
The Garden State has one of the most liberal workers’ compensation laws in the country in terms of the length of protection. Temporary disability benefits last a maximum of 400 weeks, or roughly seven and a half years, in New Jersey. So, rather than rush their patients through physical rehabilitation and recovery, doctors can take a measured approach that vastly increases the chances of complete recovery.
It is not unusual for injury-related hospital bills to exceed $100,000. Additional medical services such as follow-up care and physical rehabilitation may cost almost as much. Rather than pay these staggering costs out-of-pocket or rely on a health insurance company, workers’ compensation pays for:
- Emergency care and hospitalization,
- Subsequent doctor’s appointments,
- Physical and/or occupational rehabilitation,
- Medical devices,
- Prescription drugs, and
- Other medically necessary expenses.
In some cases, the insurance company pays these costs directly. If such payment is not forthcoming, an attorney may be able to write a letter of protection to the treating physician, guaranteeing payment when the case is resolved. In either situation, victims need not pay anything upfront and they are not responsible for any unpaid charges after the case is over.
In New Jersey, injured workers must see the doctor that the company assigns, or else their medical bills may not be covered.
Despite the facts that payments to injured workers have generally declined over the past several decades and that the workers’ compensation system has become increasingly complex during that time, it is still the exclusive remedy in most cases. However, some victims may be able to file legal claims outside the system and obtain additional compensation. These situations include:
- Responsible Third Party: If a negligent co-workers was partially at fault for the injury, the victim may be able to obtain damages against this party in civil court. The court will reduce the award in proportion with the victim’s negligence, if any.
- Defective Product: If a manufacturing error or a design defect caused the injury, the product manufacturer may be strictly liable for damages. In some jurisdictions, the victim must prove that a reasonable alternative design or manufacturing method was available.
- Reckless Employer: Some employers knowingly send workers into hazardous areas. Prior accidents, prior complaints, or prior government action (such as an OSHA fine) are usually sufficient to establish knowledge.
The additional compensation includes money for loss of consortium (companionship), pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment in life, emotional distress, and other noneconomic damages. In most cases, such awards are tax free.
Connect With Savvy Attorneys
Injured workers in New Jersey are usually entitled to significant financial benefits. For a free consultation with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer in Sussex County, contact Hollander, Strelzik, Pasculli, Hinkes, Vandenberg & Hontz, L.L.C. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.