On January 21, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the long debated Workers’ Compensation Hand and Foot Bill. The new law primarily increases workers’ compensation permanency awards for injuries involving the hands and feet; however, the bill also addresses the Section 12(e) funeral allowance and an Employer’s Section 40 subrogation rights.
The Hand and Foot Bill increases the number of weeks an injured worker is entitled to receive benefits for injuries involving the hands, fingers, and feet. Previously, an injured worker received 2.45 weeks of benefits for each percentage of disability for hand injuries and 2.3 weeks of benefits for each percentage of disability for foot injuries. Under the new law, hand injuries are compensated at 2.6 weeks of benefits for each percentage of disability under 25% and at 3 weeks of benefits for each percentage of disability over 25%. Loss of function in the foot is compensated at 2.5 weeks of benefits for each percentage of disability under 25% and at 2.85 weeks of benefits for each percentage of disability over 25%. The bill also slightly increases awards for the total loss of each finger.
To illustrate the impact: the award for injured worker with a 15% statutory hand disability has increased from $9,261.00 to $9,828.00. The award for an injured worker with a 50% statutory hand disability has increased from $33,364.00 to $43,128.00.
The new law also made changes to Sections 12(e) and 12(c) of the Workers’ Compensation Act. The law increases the funeral allowance provided under N.J.S.A 34:15-12(e). When an injured worker passes away from causes unrelated to a work injury, the Workers’ Compensation Statute previously required a $3,500 funeral allowance to be paid to the worker’s estate. The funeral allowance has now been increased to $5,000. Additionally, Section 12(c) was amended so that an additional sum paid to an injured work following an amputation (colloquially referred to as the amputation bonus) is not subject to subrogation in a third party lawsuit. Furthermore, the new law makes it clear that an amputation bonus may be awarded even if the injured worker is totally and permanently disabled.
While it is evident that this bill is going to increase the cost of claims going forward, it is not clear when the Legislature intended the bill to take effect. While the bill is not retroactive and will have no impact on past claims, there is a dispute as to whether it applies to all claims current pending before the Division or to only new claims filed after January 21, 2020. There is no clear answer, and until there is additional legislative or judicial guidance, we can expect differing opinions amongst the different Judges and vicinages. In the meantime, GRSLGB&B will continue to provide legal guidance as these cases arise, and we encourage our clients and colleagues to contact us with any specific legal questions you may have.
 Samantha E. Hahn, Esq. is a Shareholder in GRSLBG&B’s Workers’ Compensation Department. She defends employers, insurers, and third party administrators against workers’ compensation claims in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.
 Alexis Carrelli, Esq. is an Associate in GRSLB&G’s Litigation Department. She defends a wide variety of clients in various civil actions brought forth in New Jersey State and Federal Courts. Alexis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.