A recent bill signed into law by Governor Murphy impacts disability awards for the hands and feet by raising the amount of compensation for same. The compensation for hand and foot injuries, which are relatively common workplace injuries, have been considered low by many for quite some time, which is the impetus behind this bill. What is being referred to as the ‘Hand and Foot Bill’ changes the amount of compensation on hand and foot injuries by increasing the number of weeks of disability that are paid for loss of function to same. The increase in the number of weeks in turn, increases the overall dollar value.
More specifically, the bill provides an increase in the weeks for loss of function of less than 25 percent of the foot or the hand, however the bigger change is for loss of function of 25 percent or over. This is because the overall number of weeks used to calculate when the loss of function is 25 percent or more, is higher. Essentially the bill now provides two different schedules to be used for these injuries depending on whether the loss of function is under 25 percent or 25 percent or higher. The second schedule of weeks that is used for loss of function of 25 percent or more allows for more serious hand and foot injuries to be compensated greater than under the prior law.
The bill also increased the compensation in terms of the number of weeks for loss of the thumb by five weeks, and for loss of the first, second, third or fourth finger there was an increase of ten weeks. Also noteworthy is the bill added language indicating that an award of total permanent disability does not bar the additional payment of an amputation bonus. Further, per the bill this additional amount is not subject to the Section 40 lien of the carrier or employer because it is not considered a payment of compensation, except for rating purposes. Despite these additional changes in the bill, the main impact of same will primarily be found with more significant hand and foot injuries.
It remains to be seen whether this bill will apply only to cases that occur after the bill was signed. This is because the language in the bill says that it shall take effect immediately, which is open to interpretation. Thus, the question is whether the bill applies retroactively to cases that have not yet been subject to court orders or only those cases that occur after the bill was signed. Therefore, potentially all cases currently pending could be subject to the new bill even if the injury in question occurred prior to the signing of same. Until there is some clarity on this issue, we are likely to see counsel for petitioner arguing for the increased compensation on pending cases with injuries to the hands and feet.