New Jersey Worker’s Compensation Law In Depth:
Workers compensation cases arise from work-related accidents or occupational disease. Generally occupational disease develops over time due to either repetitive movement, as with carpal tunnel syndrome, or exposure to harmful conditions such as a work place containing asbestos or a stressful environment that can lead to a heart attack or psychological illness. Clients typically realize they need legal representation when a work-related accident or occupational disease causes any or a combination of the following circumstances:
- A need for immediate medical care;
- An inability to work for a period of time; and
- Concern about the likelihood of diminished work capacity in the future.
When a client visits a workers’ compensation lawyer, the lawyer will check if the accident or occupational disease is “work related,” which means arising out of or in the course of employment. A warehouse worker may have job duties that involve heavy lifting, but if he injures his back lifting a package at home, the injury is not work-related, and he is not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. With only limited exceptions, the worker must be at the job and on the job. A carpenter who has an auto accident while driving from home to work is not covered; but if he were injured while driving from one job site to another, he would be covered.
Notice of work-related accidents or occupational disease must be given to the employer within specified time limits or else the worker will lose rights to certain benefits. If an employer, unaware of a work-related injury, is not notified of the injury within 14 days, no benefits are due until notice is given. If the employee fails to give notice within 30 days, and the employer can show he was harmed thereby, no benefits will be due to the extent the employer can demonstrate such harm. Take for example a clerk who cuts her arm while working for an employer who requires all injured workers to seek immediate medical treatment at its medical clinic. The clerk says nothing about it, believing her injury is not serious enough to warrant medical treatment. But twenty days later her arm becomes severely infected, and she is admitted to a hospital for emergency treatment. If the employer can prove that the clerk would have required only minor treatment had notification been given within 14 days, the employer will not have to pay for the worker’s hospital bills, time missed from work, and permanent impairment caused by the severe infection. However, if the clerk can prove that a coworker notified the boss immediately, and the boss ignored the situation, or that the boss actually saw the injury or should have known about it, the employer may be ordered to provide all required benefits.
If the employer becomes aware of a work-related accident after 30 days but before 90 days, the employee must show that his failure to notify was due to a reasonable excuse such as fraud, mistake, ignorance of the law, or some other justifiable circumstance. An illiterate employee would find it easier to justify such a mistake than would a lawyer or paralegal employed by a large law firm specializing in workers’ compensation defense.
In cases of occupational disease, the employee must notify the employer within five months after she ceased being exposed to the occupational disease, or within 90 days after she knew or should have known the nature of her disability and its relation to her employment, whichever is later. Failure to give notice within this these time frames will bar all compensation. Notice provisions differ from statutes of limitations, which prohibit the filing of lawsuits after specified times. The statute of limitations in cases of workers’ compensation is two years after the accident or, in cases of occupational disease, two years after the claimant first knew the nature of her disability and its relation to her employment. An employee who notifies her employer of an injury or occupational disease at the earliest possible time will nevertheless be precluded from bringing a claim if she waits more than two years to file a lawsuit.
Contact one of our New Jersey workers compensation lawyers for further legal advice.
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