A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Governor Murphy Signs Legislation Clarifying Effective Date of Hand And Foot Bill

By on November 12, 2020 in Legislation with 0 Comments

Earlier this year the new hand and foot bill became effective on January 21, 2020.  This bill marked a significant change in the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act.  The language was unambiguous in augmenting the number of weeks for injuries of the hand, foot and fingers.  However, the language was less than clear concerning its effective date. Did it apply only to cases filed after January 21, 2020?  Did it apply to all cases pending as of January 21, 2020?

On October 30, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation amending L. 2019, c. 387 to clarify that the law was intended to apply to cases that were pending in the Division but not yet settled and cases that were filed on or after the date of enactment.  Now the question is what do practitioners and judges do in regard to orders that were entered over the past 10 months using the pre-2020 rates for a hand or foot injury?

Before addressing this issue, let’s recap how this law changes New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act.  Until the passage of this law, under N.J.S.A. 34:15-12 an injured worker would receive 2.45 weeks for each percentage of compensation for hand injuries.  The law increased the weeks to 2.6 for each percentage of compensation until the level of 25%.  At that level and above, each percentage gets compensated at 3 weeks.

Similarly, the new law raised the long-standing compensation for foot injuries from 2.3 weeks per percentage to 2.5 weeks until the level of 25%. At that level and above, each percentage gets compensation at 2.85 weeks.   It should be noted that the hand and foot law does not apply to reopener claims. 

The law made some other minor changes such as raising the weeks for finger injuries and raising the death benefit to $5,000 from $3,500 for a person who died from any cause other than the accident or occupational disease during the period of payments of permanent injury.

When the law passed in January, judges and practitioners seemed to split fairly evenly around the state on whether the law should only apply to cases newly filed after January 21, 2020 as opposed to cases pending in the Division in January 2020 but filed before that date.  Given the lack of consensus, many pending cases were settled using pre-2020 rates.  That meant somewhat less money in permanency awards for petitioners.

In light of the recent legislation from the Governor clarifying the effective date of this law, employers and practitioners are now asking the following questions:

  1. Did the parties expressly agree to use the pre-2020 rates as part of negotiations and was this agreement made part of the court record?
  2. Did petitioner reserve rights to revisit the issue of the law’s effective date in the event of clarification from the Appellate Division or the Governor?
  3. Was the issue never discussed or addressed at all on the record when the case settled?

In the first situation, respondents will argue that the order should not now be amended.  In the second and third situations, applications to modify the award may be filed, or the parties may even consent in some cases to amend the prior order should they agree.  When there is a genuine dispute, it will become important to obtain a copy of the transcript at the time the order was entered to see what the parties stipulated to on the record and whether rights were reserved.  Correspondence between counsel before the date of settlement may also be relevant in determining the intent of the parties.  Given that hand and foot injuries comprise a large percentage of New Jersey claims, one can anticipate significant disputes over the ensuing months.

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John H. Geaney

About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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