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From Shoulder Injury to Shoulder Compensation:
A Guide to Workplace Shoulder Claims in New Jersey

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In the workplaces of New Jersey, shoulder injuries are more common than most might think. A simple lift, a sudden jolt, or even the wear and tear of repetitive tasks can disrupt one’s professional and personal life. Understanding these injuries is the first step, but equally important is grasping how compensation for such injuries is determined. 

Shoulder injury swollen and inflamed as a red area on the body of injured worker immediately after a work accident.

Understanding the Spectrum of
Workplace Shoulder Injuries

Rotator Cuff Tears

The rotator cuff is a marvel of our anatomy, a group of muscles and tendons that cradle the shoulder joint, allowing us to wave, throw, and lift. It’s essential, and the pain and weakness can be significant when it tears. A rotator cuff tear often results from wear and tear over the years but can also occur suddenly from a single traumatic event. Think of the rotator cuff as strings controlling a puppet; if one or more snap, the puppet can’t move as it should. People with this injury often complain of pain, especially when lying on the affected side, and they might find themselves struggling with tasks like combing their hair or reaching behind their backs.

Bursitis

Imagine tiny, fluid-filled pillows cushioning the bones and tendons in your shoulder, reducing friction. These are called bursae. Bursitis is when these tiny pillows become inflamed. This inflammation can be due to repetitive motions (like throwing a ball or painting a ceiling) or sudden injury. The result is a swollen, painful shoulder, especially when lifting or moving the arm away from the body. It can sometimes feel like a persistent, aching pain that becomes sharper with movement.

Tendinitis

Tendons are the sturdy cords attaching muscle to bone. Over time, repetitive activities or sudden injuries can irritate these tendons, leading to tendinitis. Tendinitis impacts tendons outside the bicep or the rotator cuff. It often starts as a mild ache in the shoulder, which can become sharper when lifting something or raising the arm. Over time, the pain might spread down the arm or become more persistent, even during rest.

Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)

If the shoulder were a door hinge, adhesive capsulitis or a frozen shoulder would be the rust that stops it from moving smoothly. The condition begins with pain that gradually worsens, followed by a stiffening of the shoulder, which restricts its movement. The ‘freezing’ process can take weeks to months, and during this time, the pain might decrease, but the stiffness remains. Eventually, with treatment and exercises, the shoulder begins to ‘thaw,’ movement is restored, but it’s a slow process.

Dislocations or Subluxations

Our shoulder is the most mobile joint in our body, and this mobility comes with a downside: susceptibility to dislocations. A dislocation is when the upper arm bone (humerus) head is forced out of the shoulder socket, partially (subluxation) or completely. A strong force or extreme rotation can cause it. The pain is immediate and intense. The shoulder might appear out of place or swollen; moving it can be incredibly painful or impossible.

Fractures

Fractures in the shoulder involve the collarbone (clavicle), the upper arm bone (humerus), or the shoulder blade (scapula). These fractures are often the result of a hard fall, a car accident, or a direct blow. Pain is immediate and can be sharp or throbbing. The shoulder area might be bruised, swollen, or even visibly deformed in more severe fractures. Moving the arm or touching the area can intensify the pain.

Each of these workplace shoulder injuries has its own unique set of challenges, symptoms, and treatments. While they might sound technical, understanding them is crucial. It empowers individuals to recognize potential problems and seek timely medical attention from an authorized treating physician if work-related.

Physician performs evaluation of injured worker to determine the percentage of permanency associated with a shoulder injury

Navigating Workers' Compensation: Permanency Benefits for Shoulder Injuries in New Jersey

When a shoulder injury at work affects you long-term, it’s more than a temporary setback. New Jersey recognizes this and has a system in place for what’s called permanency awards.  This is compensation for workers who, even after healing as much as they’re going to, aren’t quite the same as before the injury. Here’s how it’s determined:

Medical Examination and Evaluation

An expert will evaluate you after your treatment ends and you’ve recovered as much as you’re going to. They’re determining the extent of your lasting impairment. This isn’t about pain alone but how your injury affects your daily functions, including your ability to work. Some critical factors in the evaluation are:

  • Clinical Findings: This is the basis of any assessment. Doctors look at objective signs of injury, like reduced range of motion, muscle weakness, or scars.

 

  • Diagnostic Tests: MRI, X-ray, and other tests can show the extent of internal damage.

 

  • Permanent Restrictions: These will be noted if the injury imposes any permanent limitations on movement or function.

 

  • Impact on daily activities: The assessment also examines how the injury affects daily activities. Can you still cook, clean, drive, or participate in hobbies you once enjoyed? Any hindrance or inability to perform these tasks can influence the percentage.

 

  • Impact on Workability: Does the injury prevent you from returning to your job or force you into a different role? For instance, a firefighter with a significant shoulder injury might no longer be able to perform essential duties.

 

  • Prior Injuries: If you had prior shoulder issues, this might influence the assessment. The aim is to ascertain how much of the disability is due to the work injury versus pre-existing conditions.

 

These factors combined paint a picture of how the injury impacts a person’s life, professionally and personally. It’s a blend of medical science and the realities of living with a disability, aiming to reach a fair representation of the injury’s long-term impact. The Petitioner and the Respondent typically retain separate experts who each write a report addressing these issues. 

Percentage of Disability

Once evaluated, the expert will assign a percentage. This represents how disabled your shoulder is compared to a fully functioning one. It’s essential to understand that this percentage doesn’t mean your whole body’s disability, just the specific injured part, in this case, the shoulder.

Calculation Based on Schedule of Disabilities

New Jersey has a ‘schedule of disabilities’. This list specifies how many weeks of compensation corresponds to each percentage of disability for various body parts. The shoulder is part of a residual catch-all category of body parts. The shoulder, nevertheless, will have a specific number of weeks associated with each percentage point of disability.

Weekly Compensation Rate

The weekly compensation rate is usually 70% of your average weekly wage, but the state sets a maximum and minimum each year. This rate is then multiplied by the number of weeks from the schedule of disabilities.

Final Award Calculation

To get your permanency award, you multiply the number of weeks (from the schedule of disabilities) by your weekly compensation rate. 

For example, if your shoulder is deemed 10% disabled, the schedule assigns 30 weeks for that percentage, and your weekly compensation rate is $400, your total award would be 30 weeks x $400 = $12,000. 

Navigating the world of workers’ compensation in New Jersey aims to be fair and just. If your shoulder injury leaves lasting effects, the permanency award ensures you’re compensated for that long-term impact. Always consult with a professional to understand your rights and potential compensation fully.

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Key guides for a workplace shoulder injury claims for New Jersey Workers

"The most frustrating thing about injuries is that they take so bloody long to heal."

Understanding Injuries and Compensation: Your Roadmap to NJ Workman’s Comp

The shoulder, a marvel of human anatomy, can sustain various injuries, each with its challenges. From the subtle pain of tendinitis to the stark reality of a rotator cuff tear, understanding these injuries is paramount. Yet, beyond the physical ailment lies the intricate path of navigating New Jersey’s workers’ compensation system. Determining rightful compensation requires understanding the medical and legal intricacies involved.

Fortunately, you don’t have to face this complex journey alone. With over 25 years of experience specializing in New Jersey work injury law, John F. Renner stands ready to assist. Offering over 25 years of legal experience, he can guide you through workers’ compensation, ensuring you get the justice and compensation you rightly deserve. Reach out at (856) 596-8000.

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About the Author

John F. Renner is the founding attorney and principal of John F. Renner P.C. He has more than 25 years of experience representing injured workers in New Jersey. Mr. Renner guides his clients through the complex maze of New Jersey Workers Compensation Law for the best possible outcome.

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