Many people injured on the job express dismay at the fact that in New Jersey an employer has the right to choose the treating doctor and other health care providers. After all, they say, medical treatment is very personal and an injured worker usually feels he or she should at least have a say in the selection of the doctors.
The reason for this state of affairs goes back to the creation of the New Jersey worker’s compensation system. Prior to the enactment of our Compensation Law, an employee injured on the job was required to file a lawsuit to prove entitlement to damages for the injury. There was no concept of “benefits” in an administrative proceeding such as we have today. Rather, it was necessary for an injured worker to prove damages in court against their employer, just as he or she would have to prove damages against a neighbor or some stranger who caused them injury. This was difficult since employers enjoyed many defenses to these lawsuits, such as, employer immunity, acceptance of the risk of employment by the worker, contributory negligence by the employee and lack of negligence by the employer or co-employee. Recovery of damages by an employee against the employer was therefore rare.
In order to remedy this situation, the legislature, in 1911, created the Compensation Act we know today, which provides for statutory medical and monetary benefits to an injured worker without regard to the worker’s fault. In order to create this law, compromises were necessary. In return for (in theory) automatic benefits the employer was given the right to “control and direct” the treating physicians. This allowed the employer to control and limit costs of treatment.
While many injured workers disagree with this system, it is one of the most important reasons we have a worker’s compensation system today. Of course, even though an employer controls and directs treatment, they must follow proper procedures under the law. If you have any questions regarding treatment for a work-related injury, the Workers’ Compensation attorneys at Stark & Stark are always ready to assist injured workers.