In New Jersey, petitioners’ attorneys will often attempt to improperly “stack” injuries to multiple body parts in order to obtain greater settlements for their clients. However, “stacking” is subject to numerous longstanding limitations. One of such limitations is that in order to “stack” injuries to multiple body parts, said injuries must have resulted from a single underlying accident.
The concept of “stacking” injuries has long-existed in New Jersey workers’ compensation law. Stacking’s inception dates to the 1984 case of Poswiatowski v. Standard Chlorine Chemical Co., 96 N.J. 32,1475 A.2d 1257 (1984). In that case, the Supreme Court of New Jersey indicated that in instances where a worker has suffered injuries to multiple body parts, Judges of Compensation must “treat the individual as a whole.” This means that the Supreme Court of New Jersey determined that when affixing the extent of disability suffered by a given worker, workers’ compensation courts must determine the cumulative impact that each of the injuries had upon said worker.
The Court in Poswiatowski continued that “[t]he overall extent of disability is not to be determined merely by mechanically adding up the separate and fractional parts, but should be determined as an overall percentage of permanent disability produced by the separate injuries after they have been considered collectively with due regard to their cumulative impact.” Therefore, judges should not separately calculate the weekly benefits for each of several concurrent disabilities at the weekly rate applicable to each disability. The Poswiatowski decision continues that a petitioner’s weekly benefits for each assigned injury should be calculated based upon the cumulative number of weeks awarded.
The ruling in Poswiatowski is clearly favorable to petitioners as it enables injured workers to receive substantially higher benefits payments via aggregation of injuries to multiple body parts. In a nut shell, Poswiatowski forwards the legislative intent that the most severely injured workers should be significantly compensated.
However, the Court in Poswiatowski dictated clear limits to the concept of “stacking.” In particular, the Court indicated that stacking applies only in cases where a petitioner has suffered injuries to multiple body parts resulting from a single accident. In its purest terms, the aforementioned means that petitioners cannot “stack” injuries to separate body parts that occurred as the result of separate accidents — even if each of the injuries occurred while the petitioner was employed by a single employer.