Liability in the context of a wear-and-tear injury—especially under New Jersey’s workers’ compensation laws—can present a complex legal scenario. Because wear-and-tear injuries develop over time, it is not uncommon for your injury to be attributable to more than one employer.
As difficult as it can be to navigate the workers’ compensation system on your own, it can be even more complicated when you need to apportion liability among multiple employers. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can be an invaluable resource to help you recover all the compensation you are entitled to.
What Are Wear-and-Tear Injuries?
Wear-and-tear injuries are also known as repetitive stress injuries. These injuries occur over time rather than from a single event. They result from repetitive motions or prolonged strain from your job. Common examples include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome from typing,
- Lumbar strain and sprain from heavy lifting as well as sitting and computer work,
- Other disc injuries from improper or prolonged sitting, and
- Rotator cuff and other shoulder injuries from heavy lifting.
Unlike acute workplace injuries resulting from a specific incident, wear-and-tear injuries develop gradually, making liability more complex.
Workers’ Compensation and Employer Liability
In New Jersey, workers’ compensation is the primary source of recovery for employees suffering from work-related wear-and-tear injuries. Workers’ compensation provides no-fault benefits, which means employees don’t need to prove their employer’s fault before receiving benefits.
Workers’ compensation covers medical expenses and a portion of lost wages but does not compensate for pain and suffering or other fault-based damages.
However, if you have worked for multiple people, liability for a wear-and-tear injury may be difficult to prove.
Multiple Employer Claims Involving Workplace Injuries
Wear-and-tear injuries develop over time due to repeated activities or prolonged exposure in the workplace. Because of this, they may involve multiple employers. This unique scenario arises when someone has worked for different employers during the period the injury developed. Determining which employer or employers are liable for workers’ compensation can be complex, as it involves assessing the contribution of each employment period to the injury. Legal expertise is essential to navigate these claims and protect your rights.
Pre-Existing Conditions and Apportionment
Your current employer might allege that your condition is pre-existing or caused by another employer. A pre-existing condition means you already had this condition before you started the new job. However, a pre-existing condition is not an absolute bar to workers’ compensation benefits through your current employer. You could be entitled to benefits if your job significantly aggravates your injury or condition. For example, you can have an existing back injury made worse by this new job and still claim benefits. Proving aggravation is no easy task, however. You must establish a causal link between your work and the worsening of your condition. Diagnostic tests, expert opinions, and medical records are critical pieces of evidence necessary to establish aggravation of a pre-existing injury.
Arguments on Natural Aging
Undoubtedly, your employer will use every argument possible to deny benefits for a repetitive stress injury. One argument might be that your complaints are just part of the aging process. Under New Jersey law, deterioration of a body part, tissue, or organ that is part of the natural aging process is not covered by workers’ compensation benefits in New Jersey. However, repetitively stressful job duties can aggravate or accelerate the normal aging process. If you didn’t lift heavy boxes daily for years, you might never have developed back pain at such a young age. Medical evidence and doctors’ notes become crucial in these types of arguments.
Filing a Claim Against a Past Employer
Do you think your initial injury came from your previous job? New Jersey law allows you to file a claim against a prior employer. However, you must file it within two years of the date you knew or reasonably should’ve known your medical condition was related to that employment. With wear and tear injuries, the two-year deadline becomes cloudy as there is no one specific incident that pinpoints precisely when it happened. It could be years of typing that led to your carpal tunnel or years of warehouse work that caused a herniated disc.
Understanding workers’ compensation laws in New Jersey is complicated. Benefits can provide a safety net for employers suffering from wear-and-tear injuries. However, knowing who is liable can be confusing when multiple employers are involved. Fortunately, an experienced New Jersey workers’ compensation lawyer at Petro Cohen can help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation so we can review your case and help guide you in the right direction, so you get the workers’ compensation benefits you’re entitled to.
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