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New Jersey workers’ compensation benefits include payment of medical bills, wage replacement or temporary disability, and a monetary award if the injury has a permanent impact on the workers daily or working life. When the worker has only one job, she is not entitled to collect both workers’ compensation and state disability benefits.  A double recovery is prohibited. However, a controversial issue is entitlement to wage replacement benefits when the worker has either a full-time job and a part-time job or two part-time jobs.  The worker may only collect workers’ compensation temporary disability benefits from the job where she was injured based upon the wages from that job.  If the worker was injured on his or her part-time job, WC will pay 70% of those wages.  This can be devastating financially when the worker is also unable to perform their full-time work as well.  Under these circumstances, the worker is entitled to collect benefits under the State of New Jersey Temporary Disability Insurance law.  This issue was examined in a recent Appellate Division Decision, Parascandolo v. Department of Labor, Board of Review, et al, (Approved for Publication May 22, 2014).  In this case, the worker held two part-time jobs.  She received workers’ compensation benefits from one job and applied for State TDI from the other.  She had paid into the State TDI program from the job where she was not injured and therefore able to receive benefits under both laws.  The Board of Review argued that there should have been a reduction in the amount of her TDI benefits because she also received WC benefits.  However, the Court confirmed that a worker should not be worse off because her injury occurred at one workplace or the other.  Receipt of both workers’ compensation temporary disability and State TDI benefits is not a “windfall”.

If you have questions about the benefits you are entitled to receive when you are injured at work, please call Stark & Stark to schedule your complimentary consultation.

Cardiovascular or cerebral vascular accidents can be compensable under the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation statute.  The courts have held that the mere fact that a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular accident occurs at work does not make it work related.  A worker or his dependents must show that the injury or death was produced by the work effort or strain in excess of the wear and tear of the claimant’s daily living.  A recent Appellate Division decision confirms this standard, see James P. Renner v. AT & T (A-71-11) Decided July 30, 2014.

This case involved an employee of AT & T who telecommutes from her home several days each week.  The day before her death, she was working on project with a looming deadline. As such she had stayed up late working into the night and was working early the next morning too.  She reported not feeling well to a co-worker around 9 am, but agreed to keep working on the project.  Within a few hours, she had called an ambulance.  She complained of choking and difficulty breathing.  She did not survive.  The experts agreed that the cause of death was a pulmonary embolism; however, they disagreed as to the cause.

Her husband filed a claim seeking dependency benefits under the workers’ compensation statute.  The doctor for Mr. Renner testified that his wife’s work effort contributed, in a material degree, to the development of deep vein thrombosis that precipitated the pulmonary embolism and her demise.  He stated that her work required her to sit at her desk and that the day before her death was the precipitating factor.  The doctor for AT & T state that she had multiple risk factors (including morbid obesity, enlarged heart and birth control pill use) for the embolism’s formation and it would be impossible to state that her cause of death was related to her work effort.  The Court held performing a job that requires sitting for long periods of time in one position, does not necessarily rise to the level required by law.  She was not confined in a cramped space and was able to change positions and move about while working.  She could take breaks, stand, and stretch or briefly exercise.  Therefore, Mrs. Renner’s death was not caused by her work effort or strain involving a substantial condition or event.

There are circumstances where the work effort is substantial and can be a significant contributing factor to injury or death.  However, identifying situations that meet the strict standards in New Jersey, takes an experienced attorney.  If you think you or a loved one may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits in New Jersey, please call Stark & Stark, PC to speak to one of our attorneys today.

The Appellate Division recently addressed this issue in the matter of Wilson v. Board of Review (Docket No. A-4874-12T4, November 6, 2014).  In this case, Mr. Wilson suffered significant spine injuries when he fell from a ladder.  He underwent two spine surgeries and was out of work receiving workers’ compensation benefits from January 10, 2011 to January 26, 2013.  When his doctor released him to return to work, it was with permanent restrictions and his employer was unable to accommodate that restriction.  The court ruled that under these circumstances, he was not eligible for unemployment.

The Court’s decision turned on two important factors.  First, in order to be eligible for unemployment benefits an individual must have sufficient earnings or wages during his “base year”, which is the first four of the last five complete quarters immediately preceding an individual’s benefits year.  A base year is calculated based upon the date of filing the claim for unemployment benefits.  In this case, Mr. Wilson had not worked within the last year and therefore he was unable to establish eligibility.

Second, an alternate base year can be used to establish eligibility in the case of a worker who was injured at work.  In the case of a work related injury, the “base year” is calculated by using the first four of the most recent five completed calendar quarters preceding the date his disability began.  The catch is that the alternate base year cannot be used if the individual is no longer able to perform the duties of his last position AND the individual did not receive workers’ compensation benefits in excess of two years.  Mr. Wilson was both unable to perform his job duties and had received workers’ compensation temporary disability benefits for just over two years when he applied for unemployment.

Unemployment benefits are often the only source of income available to injured workers who lose their job due to a work related injury.  To navigate the Department of Labor’s resources available to injured workers’ you may want to seek legal counsel.  If you are injured at work and need answers to questions like this, please call our experienced attorneys for your free, confidential consultation today.

New Jersey Child Labor laws restrict the kind of employment, minimum age of those who can work, and the hours that minors under the age of 18 are allowed to work.  This link provides the specifics. New Jersey minors in the workforce are covered by the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA), but there are additional rights they are entitled to as well.

First, if the employer has violated the Child Labor Laws, that employer, not its’ insurance carrier, is responsible to pay extra compensation for awards of permanent disability benefits and or dependency  benefits over and above the amount of compensation provided for in the WCA.  The extra compensation is double the usual benefit payable in accordance with the schedule of benefits.

Second, unlike adults, minors are not barred from suing their employer for negligent acts.  Benefits under the WCA are limited to the payment of medical bills and temporary disability benefits while the injured worker is recovering from the injury.  It also allows for an award of permanent disability if the injury has a permanent impact on that worker’s life.  However, New Jersey workers are not allowed to sue their employer or coworkers in negligence which prevents them from recovering pain and suffering damages.  Minors do not have the same restriction.  A minor may choose to proceed under the WCA or under theories of general liability.  However, if the minor elects to pursue her claim under general liability laws, she is not also entitled to receive an award for permanent disability under the WCA.  An election of benefits occurs once the Employee Claim Petition is file with the Division of Workers’ Compensation or the Complaint in Superior Court.

If you are a minor or the parent or guardian of a minor who is injured at work, please call our experienced attorneys at Stark & Stark  today for a complimentary, no obligation consultation.  We can help you decide what the best course of action is for you under the circumstances of your case.

New Jersey Workers’ Compensation recognizes claims for specific accidents as well as occupational injury and disease claims.  Psychiatric claims can fall into either category, but have traditionally been very difficult cases to prove.  Under Goyden v. State of New Jersey, 256 N.J. Suer.438 (App.Div. 1991), five objective elements must be met for a worker’s condition to be compensable.  The working conditions must be objectively stressful, the believable evidence must support a finding that the worker reacted to them as stressful, the objectively stressful working conditions must be peculiar to the particular work place, there must be objective evidence supporting a medical opinion of the resulting psychiatric disability in addition to the bare statement of the patient and the workplace exposure must have been a material cause of the disability.

In a recent unreported decision, Rizzo v. Kean University, (Decided June 11, 2014.) the Appellate Division has maintained this standard of proof.  In Rizzo, the Petitioner alleged that she was confronted and trapped by a co-worker and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.  As a result she sought counseling and did not return to work.  She subsequently sought a leave of absence and later resigned.  She filed a formal claim petition several months after the incident. The employer denied compensability and she sought treatment on her own.  More than three and a half years, she filed a motion requesting that the employer provide treatment and reimburses her out-of-pocket expenses.  During the trial, the worker revealed that she had been sexually abused as a child and locked in a closet.  Her doctor testified that she did not believe the response would have been the same if she had not had the experience as a child.  Therefore, the judge found that the sexual abuse was the source of her disability; not the office incident.

Psychiatric claims are very fact specific.  The facts of each case must be thoroughly reviewed in order to determine if a particular claim is compensable.  At Stark & Stark, we have experience in evaluating the facts and the likelihood of success.  If you have questions about your specific situation, please contact Stark & Stark to schedule your complimentary consultation.

As a trial lawyer, I have always argued my case from one side or the other.  There is always a winner and a loser in litigation. While winning is rewarding, the process is adversarial and can be draining.  Mediation is an alternative to litigation and is a means of resolving disputes between parties with the assistance of a neutral third party. A mediator makes no findings of fact and does not give his or her opinion as to how to resolve the issues.  The mediator’s role is simply to facilitate a settlement between the parties by engaging them in conversation and helping them to understand the others position and needs. A successful mediation is one in which the parties agree on the best way to resolve their dispute and everyone walks away content.  After 20 years of litigating cases, I was intrigued by the prospect of a less adversarial forum.  With the training complete, I have been qualified as a R. 1:40 qualified mediator on the roster of court-approved mediators.  I have also volunteered to work as a municipal court mediator. I believe that my experiences as a mediator will give me a fresh perspective in the courtroom helping me to be on the winning side more often than not. I am looking forward to helping would-be litigants resolve their disputes through the mediation process.      

New Jersey workers’ compensation is a three prong system that entitles injured workers to 1. payment of their reasonable, necessary and related medical bills, 2. temporary disability benefits as a wage replacement while they are out of work recovering from the injury, and 3. total disability or a monetary award for ways in which the injury has a permanent impact on the workers’ life. 

Permanent disability can be either partial or total. Most awards fall into the partial category which means that the injury has a permanent impact on your daily or working life in one way or another.  It does not mean that you can never work again. In fact, most workers are able to return to their regular job. If you have injured the same part of your body before, the overall disability is calculated and the workers’ compensation carrier pays for the part of the injury that they caused taking a credit for that prior loss of function. This often works to your benefit as the rate at which benefits are paid increases as the disability increases.

Total disability means that not only are you unable to do your regular job, but you cannot do any job. It entitles you to lifetime benefits as long as you are disabled. Total disability can be as a result of an accident that causes significant injuries, for example, paraplegia.  However, if you had a combination of pre-existing disabilities (work related or not) in combination with the last work accident, you may also be eligible for total disability. The difference is that in the former scenario, the lifetime benefits are paid directly by the workers’ compensation carrier and in the later, the benefits are paid by the workers’ compensation carrier for a designated period of time and then the benefits are paid the State of New Jersey, Second Injury Fund. 

It is extremely important that you provide your attorney with an accurate history of all of your medical conditions and injuries so that they can make a determination as to how to pursue total disability benefits on your behalf.  Conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, broken bones and any surgeries are all conditions that could be considered to contribute to your overall disability. The most important factor is that the condition must have been diagnosed and treated before the work accident.

At Stark & Stark, we represent injured workers. Our attorneys have successfully handled minor injuries to total disability claims and everything in between. If you have been injured at work and have questions about the benefits you are entitled. Please call us for your free, confidential consultation.  

Did you see NJ.com’s article regarding the corrections officer who was denied his accidental disability pension because a pension doctor said he could work? Read the full story here.

This is an all too real a situation that many officers find themselves. It is important to note that this type of pension is only awarded to officers injured in the line of duty. That means that the medical treatment they receive is managed under the workers’ compensation system.  The State has all the power. That’s right, the officer has no right to choose a doctor under this system. So, as in this case, the State sent him to doctors that said he is not capable of performing his job duties and placed permanent restrictions on his physical activities. The DOC did not offer him a position within those restrictions. It would seem that he meets all the criteria to receive his benefits.  But that’s not where this story ends. To add insult to injury, the Pension Board (also a State entity) then hires its’ own doctor to evaluate the officer to render his opinion with regard to his ability to work.  With this background, the article raises many questions. Why weren’t the doctors chosen by the workers’ compensation system adequate? Are they not of sufficient caliber for their opinions to be vailid?  Why is there even a need for the pension board to hire a separate doctor? If the WC doctors are not good enough to offer their opinion, then why are they good enough to treat injured workers? Isn’t the ultimate goal to give them the best care possible so they can return to work sooner rather than later and without restrictions? I wish I had the answers, but I don’t. I too find myself fighting for accidental disability pensions for officers injured in the line of duty and not fit for work after all medical treatment options have been exhausted. 

What I do know is that the current standard to be eligible for benefits was established by the Jersey Supreme Court in 2007, see Richardson v. Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, 192 N.J. 189 (2007).   The applicant must show that:

1. that he is permanently and totally disabled;

2. as a direct result of a traumatic event that is

a. identifiable as to time and place,

b. undesigned and unexpected, and

c. caused by a circumstance external to the member (not the result of pre-existing disease that is aggravated or accelerated by the work);

3. that the traumatic event occurred during and as a result of the member’s regular or assigned duties;

4. that the disability was not the result of the member’s willful negligence; and

5. that the member is mentally or physically incapacitated from performing his usual or any other duty. 

This standard was established in order to standardize how “traumatic event” was interpreted.  In short, an “accident” in the line of duty was intended to be covered.  If the Board rejects a pension application, the injured worker is entitled to a hearing.  In my experience, even if the Administrative Law Judge finds in your favor, the Board does not have to accept his or her opinion.  The next step is to file a formal appeal to the Appellate Division.  Appeals can be costly and most definitely time consuming.  Time and money is something most officers in this situation do not have. At Stark & Stark, we have successfully obtained accidental disability pension benefits.  We would be happy to review your case to determine if there is an appealable issue.  Please call Stark & Stark for your free, no obligation consultation.

Many injuries occur while people are either coming to work or going home from work.  Where the accident occurs will determine whether or not the injuries arising out of that accident are compensable.  Generally speaking, motor vehicle accidents while driving to work in the morning or from work in the evening are not compensable.  However, if your job duties require you to drive as part of your work, an accident occurring in the direct performance of your job duties is considered work related.  Accidents occurring once you have arrived in the parking lot, but have not yet arrived at your work space are much more controversial. 

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently decided a case, Cheryl Hersh v. County of Morris, (A-59-12) (071433), which addresses this issue.  Ms. Hersh worked for Morris County.  She did not have sonority to park in the lot next to her building, but was provided with a parking pass to park in a public garage a couple of blocks away.  Her employer paid for the parking and she was directed to park level three, however, she was not given an assigned parking spot.  Ms. Hersh was injured while crossing the public street between the garage and her workplace.  Because her employer did not control the parking lot, her route between the garage and her office building, or the public street the Court found that her injuries did not fall under workers’ compensation. 

The mere fact that the employer pays for parking, does not necessarily result in a compensable injury.  Injuries that might be covered between parking and arriving at your work space might include a fall in the parking lot where you have an assigned parking spot, a fall in the parking lot where the employer maintains and controls the parking area (such as reserving the spots near the entrance of the building for customers) or where the injury occurs where the employee is directed to use only one way entering or leaving the building. 

If you have questions about an injury occurring on your way to work or while leaving for the day, we would be happy to assist you.  Please call Stark & Stark’s experienced attorneys today for your confidential no obligation consultation toady. 

The Appellate Division recently ruled that in order to prove fraud, thus disqualifying an injured worker from obtaining workers’ compensation benefits, an insurance carrier must prove three things:  that that the injured worker acted purposefully or knowingly in giving or withholding information with the intent that he or she receive benefits, that the worker knew that the statement or omission was material to obtaining the benefit and that the statement or omission was made for the purpose of falsely obtaining benefits to which the worker was not entitled, Natalie Bellino v. Verizon Wireless, Docket No. A-1132-12T4 (Argued 9/10/13, Decided 3/19/14). 

In this case, Ms. Bellino was accused of providing false, incomplete, and misleading information to her treating and evaluating doctors.  The allegations included that she failed to disclose every medication she was taking to each doctor she saw, failed to reveal a substance abuse problem for which she takes medication to prevent relapse and that she failed to disclose her prior psychiatric treatment.  The Judge of Compensation held, and the Appellate Division affirmed, that the evidence at trial did not prove that she purposely or knowingly provided false or misleading information.  She testified that she tried to answer all the doctors’ question truthfully, but that she had seen many doctors several times and was not always certain of the times and dates of previous treatment.  The Appellate Division stated that the anti-fraud provision is intended to root out fraudulent claims, not merely test an injured person’s ability to remember every detail of a lengthy medical history or to accurately determine what may be material for purposes of receiving treatment or other benefits. 

The ruling in this case is a victory for New Jersey’s injured workers.  It is in your best interests to be as thorough and complete as possible with any doctor that is treating you whether it is for a work related condition or not, but courts are not inclined to deny you benefits if you inadvertently omit facts.  Please note that fraud is taken seriously in the Division of Workers’ Compensation and any intentional behavior will result in forfeiture of benefits and subject you to civil and criminal penalties. 

If you were injured on the job and have questions about your rights and benefits, please call Stark & Stark for a free, confidential consultation.  We look forward to working with you.