In order to obtain a monetary award, the injured worker (“Petitioner”) must prove that they have a partial permanent disability under the Workers’ Compensation Statute. The basic definition of “disability permanent in quality and partial in character” is contained in N.J.S.A. 34:15-36.
However, the Supreme Court of New Jersey has given us more direction in analyzing this section of the statute in several important cases. The Court’s opinion in Perez v. Pantasote offers a more detailed description of how to apply the legal standard, and is the seminal case in this area of the law. Proving that Petitioner has lost wages and lost the ability to do a prior job can impact the amount of permanent disability benefits a worker receives. However New Jersey is not a wage loss state for purposes of proving entitlement to an award of partial permanent disability, and loss of wages is only one factor to consider. In fact the statute specifically states that a Petitioner cannot be precluded from obtaining partial permanency benefits simply because they return to work, doing to same job. So whether the petitioner is able to return to the prior job or not, there are more factors to consider in an award of partial permanent disability.
The Perez case requires proof of the following in order for the petitioner to receive an award of partial permanent disability:
- The Petitioner must have demonstrable “objective medical evidence” which restricts the function of the body, AND,
- Either a lessening to a material degree of working ability, or an impairment of the “ordinary pursuits of life.”
The issue of objective medical evidence is of the utmost importance. This phrase refers specifically to the objective testing that takes place during the course of Petitioner’s treatment. The best objective medical records to prove a case for partial permanent disability are reports of testing such as X-ray reports, MRI reports, EMG reports, surgical reports etc. If these tests show ABNORMAL findings the “objective medical evidence” part of the Perez standard is met. It is then relatively easy to prove “functional loss” by proving either a lessening to a material degree of working ability, or an impairment in other aspects of life. If the Petitioner has returned to work, this standard can be met by showing a significant decrease in the ability to do activities around the house, or sporting and social limitations.