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The concept of reconstructing wages for permanency awards pertains to part-time workers with serious injuries. For example, consider an employee who works 20 hours per week earning $10 per hour. The employee has a serious injury that prevents the employee from earning the same amount of money or prevents the employee from working full-time in the future. The wage is $200 per week giving rise to a permanency rate of $140 per week. Assume that the award is 50% permanent partial disability payable over 300 weeks. Unreconstructed the award would amount to $42,000. (300 times $140). If the Judge were to reconstruct the wage to $400 per week (40 hours times $10 per week in a customary work week), the rate would be $280 per week with the award being $84,000. (300 weeks times $280). That reconstructed award to a 40-hour work week would be double the unreconstructed award.
As a reminder, the New Jersey rate chart that all practitioners have at their desks cannot be used for low wage employees. The front of the rate chart is for high wage earners (those subject to maximum rates due to high wages). If one were to pay based on a 2017 rate chart, the award would be 300 weeks or $179,400. That would be an overpayment of $137,400!
Remember also that the minimum for temporary disability benefits is much higher than the minimum for permanency benefits ($35). In 2017 the minimum rate was $239 for temporary disability benefits but the minimum for permanent partial disability benefits was $35 per week. That minimum rate has been $35 per week for many decades.
So when should a judge reconstruct an employee’s wages? The rule comes from Katsoris v. South Jersey Pub. Co., 131 N.J. 535 (1993). The Supreme Court said, “The critical inquiry is whether petitioner has demonstrated that her injuries, while disabling her from engaging in part-time employment, have disabled or will disable her with respect to her earning capacity in contemporary or future part-time employment.”
Let’s consider a few scenarios:
What happened to Ms. Katsoris? She had a part-time job delivering newspapers, which was the work that caused her serious injury. She was no longer able to do that part-time physical job on account of the work injury. However, she was able to return to her full-time secretarial job. The Appellate Division stated that the wage should be reconstructed, but the Supreme Court reversed and said it should not be reconstructed because petitioner did not prove an impairment of full-time earning capacity since she was able to resume her full-time secretarial job. So the focus must always be on whether there is a material impact on contemporary or future earning capacity.
Here’s the last point to remember about wage reconstruction. One does not always reconstruct to 40 hours per week. That is most common but it could be more or less hours, depending on what is a normal work week. The Supreme Court makes clear in the Katsoris case that the judge should determine the customary number of hours and the customary number of days constituting an ordinary work week before reconstructing. So if the normal work week is 50 hours per week, then the multiplier should be 50 instead of 40.
John H. Geaney, Esq., is an Executive Committee Member and a Shareholder in Capehart Scatchard's Workers’ Compensation Group. Mr. Geaney concentrates his practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, third-party administrators, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. Should you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Mr. Geaney at 856.914.2063 or by e‑mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.