On January 21, 2020, the new hand and foot bill became effective which altered the number of weeks for injuries of the hand, foot, and fingers. While it was clear that the law applied to cases that were filed after the amendment, it was ambiguous as to whether it applied to injuries and/or cases that predated January 21, 2020. On October 30, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation amending the new law to provide clarification.
The clarification states that the law shall apply to all pending traumatic accident or occupational disease cases, which have not yet been adjudicated by the Workers' Compensation Court or approved for settlement. This does not mean that all injuries that predate the amendment are subject to the new hand and foot bill, it means that all cases that were pending in the court after January 21, 2020, will be subject to the new hand and foot bill, regardless of the date of injury.
The amendment further clarified that the law does not apply to cases that have been reopened by an Application for Review or Formal Award. Therefore, if the original Order Approving Settlement predates January 21, 2020 and is brought back on an Application for Review following January 21, 2020, any modification of award will be determined by the old schedule of disabilities.
As a review, the new hand and foot bill essentially provides for a longer period of weeks for the hand, foot, and fingers. Additionally, it jumps up to an even longer period of weeks if the injury is 25 percent or above for that body part.
Prior to the amendment, the hand was determined to be a percentage of 245 weeks. It is now a percentage of 260 weeks. If the injury is determined to be over 25 percent, it is factored based on 300 weeks. A foot was a percentage of 230 weeks. It is now a percentage of 250 weeks. If the injury is determined to be over 25 percent, it is factored on 285 weeks.
The fingers have also been increased as follows:
• The thumb was based on 75 weeks; it is now 80 weeks;
• The first finger was based on 50 weeks; it is now 60 weeks;
• The second finger was based on 40 weeks; it is now 50 weeks;
• The third finger was based on 30 weeks; it is now 40 weeks; and
• The fourth finger was based on 20 weeks, it is now 30 weeks.
Because of the ambiguity, many practitioners were settling cases with the stipulation that would effectively allow the petitioner to bring his case back for further review, should the legislature determine that the new hand and foot bill applies to injuries that predate January 21, 2020. Therefore, it's possible the respondents may see those cases return to seek the increased number of weeks if those cases were settled or adjudicated following January 21, 2020.