If you have been injured at work, you are not alone. In 2012, almost 3 million workers suffered work-related injuries and illnesses, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than half of these injuries forced employees to miss work, transfer to a new job, or limited the employee in some way.
Workplace injuries can have a major impact on not only your physical health, but also your financial situation and emotional health. Here are three potential options for recovering compensation after a workplace injury or illness:
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance program that provides compensation for wage replacement, medical treatment, and permanent disability payments, as well as death benefits for the dependents of a worker killed on the job. As a no-fault program, workers’ compensation guarantees benefits to injured workers, regardless of who was at fault in the accident. In exchange for the benefits guaranteed by workers’ compensation, the injured employee forfeits the right to bring a civil lawsuit against the employer for pain and suffering or other damages. (However, that is not to say that an employee can’t file a civil suit whatsoever; if the injury was caused by a third party—such as a vendor—or the accident was caused by an intentional act, you could still have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.)
Workers are entitled to fixed amounts of compensation through workers’ compensation. Often, these amounts are determined by the level of disability (i.e. more money is given to an employee who lost an arm in a conveyer belt accident than to one who broke a finger).
If your work-related injury leaves you with a permanent disability, you can become eligible for disability payments. Disability payments are divided into three categories:
- Temporary total disability: These benefits are provided when an injured worker is under active medical care and unable to work for more than one week. New Jersey workers are entitled to temporary total disability payments at 70 percent of their average weekly wage (but not more than 75 percent or less than 20 percent of the statewide average weekly wage). These benefits end when the worker is (a) authorized to return to work or (b) deemed to have reached “maximum medical improvement”—that is, any additional treatment would not improve the worker’s condition.
- Permanent partial disability: If a worker suffers a permanent impairment, but that impairment does not bar him or her from ever working again, he or she could be entitled to permanent partial disability benefits. These payments start when temporary disability ends.
- Permanent total disability: If the injury prevents the worker from returning to any kind of gainful employment, he or she could be eligible for permanent disability benefits. These payments are also based on 70 percent of the worker’s average weekly wage.
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A civil lawsuit is typically an option when your job isn’t covered by workers’ compensation or other restrictions. A civil suit is also an option when the injury was caused by a third party (i.e. not your direct employer, but rather a vendor, maintenance worker, etc.). Depending on the nature and severity of your injuries, a civil lawsuit may be your best option for recovery.