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Appellate Court Reverses Order for Temporary Disability Benefits Against One of Two Potential Employers Where Employment Was Disputed

By on September 22, 2017 in Court Rulings with 0 Comments

When a petitioner files a motion for medical and temporary disability benefits and the only issue is which carrier or employer is responsible, the Judge of Compensation can order benefits paid by one of the parties pending the outcome of litigation. The logic behind this rule is that it is unfair to delay benefits to an injured claimant while two potentially responsible employers or carriers fight out which of the two should be legally responsible.   But there are limits to this practical rule, as noted in Calix v. A2Z Universal Landscaping and Utica National Insurance Group No. A-3978-15T2 (App. Div. September 7, 2017).

The case began with a serious injury to Mr. Calix, who was not sure who his employer was.  He filed motions against both RNR Technologies, Inc. and A2Z.   RNR was not insured and never answered the claim petition nor responded to the motion.  Utica, as carrier for A2Z, began to make payments but stopped when it determined that there was no evidence petitioner was employed by A2Z.

Mr. Calix testified that he began working at 3200 Bordentown Avenue in Parlin, N.J. a few months prior to the accident and was paid cash.  He never received any documentation identifying his employer.  The petitioner’s certification asserted that the address above was that of RNR.  Petitioner testified that he never heard the name of A2Z and never saw any signs bearing the name of A2Z.  He said he was hired by Roger West and an individual named Steve. That was the extent of his knowledge.

The Judge of Compensation directed A2Z to pay Calix temporary disability benefits retroactively to the date of accident on the basis of an administrative court rule under N.J.A.C. 12:235-3.2 (h).  That is the rule which states that the Judge can order one of the carriers or employers to pay pending litigation where the only issue is which employer or carrier is liable. A2Z appealed the court order and contended that this rule did not apply where the critical issue in the case is employment by one of the companies.

The Appellate Division reversed the order of the Judge of Compensation.  It said, “There is no evidence supporting the judge’s implicit finding A2Z was Calix’s employer and therefore no basis upon which the judge could properly award temporary benefits under N.J.S.A. 34:15-15.”  The Court added that this administrative rule “presupposes that a respondent ordered to pay temporary benefits is the petitioner’s employer in the first instance.”

The case is instructive because in today’s workplace it is increasingly common that employees do not always know the identity of their employer.  In this case, petitioner only knew he worked at the address of RNR, which was uninsured and did not even respond to pleadings in the case.  There was no evidence at trial that A2Z was in fact petitioner’s employer; hence, the logic of the administrative rule did not apply.  A2Z was entitled to try the issue of employment, and the burden was on petitioner to prove employment.

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John H. Geaney

About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, an executive committee member and shareholder with Capehart Scatchard, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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