What does “Total Disability” mean in a workers’ compensation case? The New Jersey Statutes Annotated defines the above as “disability that is permanent in quality and total in character.” N.J.S.A. 34:15-36. The statute goes on to explain that the impairments can be physical or neuropsychiatric, must be caused by the work related accident or occupational condition, and that the injured worker must show that “no fundamental or marked improvement in such condition can be reasonably expected.”
Total and permanent disability in a workers’ compensation case is different from the standard used by the Social Security Administration to determine disability. Under the Social Security standard, a worker has to prove that given their age, education level, and physical capacity they cannot return to their prior job, or any other job that they have done in the past 15 years. The workers’ compensation standard is harder to meet because age and past work do not come in to the equation. The injured worker has to prove that because of the disability from the work accident (or the work accident combined with prior medical conditions) they can no longer work at all. This is a tough standard, but certainly possible to meet. The standard can be met if, after the accident, the injured worker can prove that they are rendered unemployable in a reasonably stable job market.
Today I settled a case in court for an injured worker who received Total Disability under N.J.S.A. 34:15-36. Since this woman was a low wage earner while she was working, she is limited in the amount of money she will receive weekly from the workers’ compensation carrier, even though she is totally disabled. I was able to get her the maximum she is entitled to under the law, however, since by law there is no cost of living increase in workers’ compensation total disability cases, her weekly pay from the workers’ compensation carrier does not increase over time.
Total Disability cases are complex in nature, and can take time to resolve. If you have any questions regarding your work related injury, please contact the attorneys in the Workers’ Compensation department of Stark & Stark.