Things to know before you get injured at work

Thousands of New Jersey workers get injured on the job every week, yet only a small percentage of these workers ever actually file a claim petition with the Division of Workers Compensation, part of the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The Division is responsible for ensuring that workers who are injured on the job are provided with the medical treatment and financial compensation they are entitled, by law, to receive. If you are a worker with a job-related injury, there may be a number of reasons why you may choose not to file a claim. However, after reading this article, it will not be because you don’t know your rights.

Workers Compensation benefits are available to workers who have an accident on the job or who become injured through an “occupational exposure.” An occupational exposure is a condition at work that causes a worker to be injured over the course of time. One example of an occupational exposure commonly dealt with by workers compensation attorneys is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), which can occur when an employee is doing prolonged typing or data entry.

The first thing you should do after getting hurt on the job or discovering an occupational exposure is to contact an experienced workers compensation attorney. There are important deadlines which must be met in order to qualify for benefits. Your attorney will know what specific steps need to be taken in order to protect your rights.

Can’t afford an attorney? No problem. In New Jersey, it is illegal for an attorney to charge a fee in a workers compensation case. The attorney only gets paid if he or she is able to obtain benefits for the injured worker. It is important, however, to keep in mind that there is a difference between fees and costs.

While attorneys may not charge a fee, they are allowed to require the client to pay some or all of the costs. There is no cost to file the claim petition, but there will likely be costs associated with a doctor’s examination or testimony, or for gathering the medical records needed to prove the case. If money is a problem be sure to inquire whether your attorney will be advancing the costs or if you will be responsible for paying them up front.

New Jersey requires all employers in the State to maintain workers compensation insurance. Employers who fail to do so may be subjected to civil or even criminal penalties. You can check the New Jersey Compensation Rating and Inspection Bureau (CRIB) at www.njcrib.com/PCOV/policycoverage.asp — or call 973-622-6014 to make sure your employer is covered.

Generally, there are three types of benefits available:

temporary disability benefits,

medical treatment, and

compensation for permanent disability.

Temporary disability benefits are available through workers compensation for employees who have been rendered temporarily disabled as the result of a work related injury. Workers who qualify for temporary disability benefits will receive 70% of their gross weekly wages up to a maximum of $691 per week for 2006.

Employers are also required to provide all necessary medical treatment at no charge to the injured employee, including prescription drugs. In New Jersey, the employer has the right to direct the course of treatment. In other words, if you’re hurt on the job, your employer chooses the doctor you will see. Whether the medical treatment being sought is necessary can sometimes be a complicated and contentious issue.

If you’ve been injured at work and your employer refuses to provide you with medical care or pay your medical bills, you may want to consult your union representative or your attorney.

If some degree of permanent disability still exists after an injured worker has been discharged from medical care, the worker is entitled to receive a permanency award. This is not an award for “pain and suffering.” A permanency award is a monetary award designed only to compensate the worker for the loss of function to the affected body part. The degree of permanency is often the most hotly, and sometimes the only, contested issue in a workers compensation case.

While many employers will voluntarily provide temporary benefits and medical treatment to an injured worker, few will voluntarily provide a permanency award. In most cases you will have to file a claim petition with the Division. It is the duty of the workers compensation judge to ensure that all injured workers who are left with some degree of permanent disability receive a fair permanency award.

You can lose important rights by not taking the right steps at the right time. Don’t let it happen to you. While the employees of the New Jersey Division of Workers Compensation are knowledgeable and friendly, they are not permitted to give legal advice to the public. Every case is different and the workers compensation laws can be extremely complicated. Make sure that all of your questions and concerns regarding your benefits are addressed. Your attorney is your best friend.

Michael D. Brottman, Esq. is an associate in the workers compensation practice of Szaferman Lakind Blumstein Blader & Lehmann, P.C., 101 Grovers Mill Road, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648. You can reach Mr. Brottman at 609-275-0400 or mbrottman@szaferman.com.

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