New Jersey’s Secondary Injury Fund was established to prevent discrimination against the disabled workers. The program is state funded through a surcharge on workers’ compensation insurance policies, and essentially immunizes employers from liabilities arising from an employee becoming totally disabled due to a combination of a preexisting medical condition and any new work-related accident or illness.
New Jersey Legislators created the fund in 1923 to encourage the employment of returning WWI veterans, many of which were disabled. However, the Secondary Injury Fund was never limited to workers who were returning veterans and has always applied to any worker who has a preexisting medical condition or disability. In short, if you have some kind of disability, or preexisting medical condition, and get injured on the job, the fund will award you benefits.
How Does the Secondary Injury Fund Work?
If you are an employee with a preexisting medical condition or disability and end up being totally and permanently disabled as a result of a work-related accident or illness, you are entitled to receive permanent disability benefits from your employer to the extent that the latest accident or illness contributed to your disability. But you may also be entitled to receive additional benefits from the Secondary Injury Fund for any portion of your total and permanent disability that is attributable to your preexisting condition.
For example, let’s assume that before you came to your present job, you had already lost an eye. Then while working for your current employer, you lose the other eye and are now totally and permanently disabled. You will be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits from your employer for the loss of the second eye as well as benefits from the Secondary Injury Fund for the first eye. You will receive permanent disability benefits from your employer and once these benefits cease, you will receive benefits from the Secondary Injury Fund forever, or until you are no longer totally and permanently disabled.
What Are the Eligibility Requirements for Benefits from The Secondary Injury Fund?
Your first injury, illness or disability does not have to be work-related. In fact, it can be something you were born with. However, to be eligible for benefits from the Secondary Injury Fund you must meet the following criteria:
- You must have become totally and permanently disabled;
- You must have had a measurable disability before the last employment accident; and
- The combination of both the preexisting disability and the latest compensable accident renders you totally and permanently disabled.
On the other hand, you may not be eligible for benefits from the Secondary Injury Fund, if any of the following statements are true:
- The last accident was totally disabling by itself
- The last accident didn’t render you permanently and totally disabled
- You are still able to be gainfully employed in some capacity
- The fact that you’re no longer employable is largely due to factors other than your medical condition, such as lack of vocational skills, lack of education, and lack of literacy.
You and your attorney will need to be prepared to argue these points in favor of your eligibility for benefits from the Secondary Injury Fund.
How to Receive Benefits from the Secondary Injury Fund
In order to receive benefits through the Secondary Injury Fund you will be required to fulfill the following obligation:
- File a verified petition;
- Submit a medical report finding that you totally disabled; and
- Provide information about any social security disability, pension, workers compensation or any third-party liability awards you may be entitled to receive.
All of this will be taken into consideration to determine the extent of benefits you’re entitled to receive from the Secondary Injury Fund.
Limits on Benefits From the Secondary Injury Fund
The Secondary Injury Fund never pays if the last accident was totally disabling and the preceding injuries had absolutely nothing to do with you becoming permanently impaired. Nor does it pay if the last injury progresses naturally to become totally disabling by itself.
Furthermore, the fund will not contribute to any lump sum settlement that you are entitled to receive under Section 20 of the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act, or pay for any medical treatment or attorney’s fees, you incur when pursuing a claim. Your employer will be responsible for paying for both of these items. Finally, the Secondary Injury Fund does not provide any partial disability benefits or any dependent benefits to your survivors.
Contact an Experienced Workers compensation Lawyer
If you have sustained a disabling work-related injury and you have a previous injury or disability, whether the first injury was work related or not, then you may be entitled to additional worker compensation benefits from New Jersey’s Secondary Injury Fund.
The Secondary Injury Fund, however, is a very complicated area of workers’ compensation law and you will almost certainly need a New Jersey workers’ compensation expert to handle this aspect of your New Jersey workers’ compensation claim for you.