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Empowering Lawyers to Advocate for Injured Workers

  • By: Lisa J. Pezzano
  • Published: April 22, 2024

I had the privilege of delivering a presentation to my colleagues at the NJ Association for Justice’s (NJAJ) annual Boardwalk conference in Atlantic City on April 19, 2024. This continuing legal education event features a diverse range of seminars covering personal injury, employment law, matrimonial law, criminal law, ethics, and workers’ compensation. It’s an invaluable opportunity for attorneys to refine their skills and exchange insights on providing exceptional services to their clients.

At the workers’ compensation seminar, I focused on the critical topic of temporary disability benefits. For many injured workers, seeking legal representation isn’t about anticipating a substantial settlement; it’s often the last resort when employers deny injuries, insurance carriers withhold medical treatment, or fail to provide lost wage compensation.

Navigating the issue of temporary disability benefits can be intricate. After a seven-day waiting period following an injury, workers are entitled to 70% of their gross average weekly wage from the first day they are unable to work until they can return on a permanent basis. However, in reality, this process is rarely straightforward.

It’s essential for injured workers to understand that temporary disability benefits are indeed temporary. Benefits cease once the worker is deemed fit to return to work or reaches “maximum medical improvement” from treatment, regardless of their ability to continue in their chosen career. I encourage those in this situation to explore alternative career paths while still under medical care.

Insurance carriers may prematurely terminate benefits due to unrelated medical conditions that delay treatment for the work injury, such as pregnancy or pre-existing conditions like diabetes or heart disease. In my presentation, I urged attorneys to file Motions to reinstate benefits in such circumstances.

If an injured worker returns to active medical treatment after his employment is terminated, the insurance carrier will most likely refuse to restart temporary disability benefits on the basis that there is no “lost wage.” Attorneys should be urging their clients to document their job searches following a termination, to prove continued eligibility for workers’ compensation temporary disability.

I also addressed the issue of light-duty assignments. If a workers’ compensation physician recommends light duty but the employer fails to provide suitable accommodations, temporary disability benefits should continue. For example, it is possible for the injured worker to refuse a light duty assignment if it is on a different shift, at a different location, or is purposely demeaning. Attorneys must carefully evaluate the legitimacy of light-duty offers and advocate for additional benefits if the offer is unsuitable for the injured worker.

Additionally, I discussed strategies for guiding clients whose temporary disability benefits have been lawfully terminated by workers’ compensation insurance carriers. We explored alternative options, including filing for state temporary disability, unemployment benefits, or social security disability.

It was my honor to help guide other attorneys who are fighting for justice for those who have worked hard to make a living. For further information on temporary disability issues or legal guidance, please don’t hesitate to contact me at (908) 923-0020.

Lisa J. Pezzano

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