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Appellate Division Reverses Dismissal of Case for Failure to Show Good Cause

By on January 29, 2015 in Uncategorized with 1 Comment

Robin Williams was injured working for Ready Pack on May 18, 2006 and May 22, 2006.  A settlement was approved for 10% of partial total for the left shoulder on August 11, 2008.   Thereafter, Williams moved to Philadelphia and left the employment of Ready Pack.

On August 10, 2010, petitioner filed a reopener application alleging that her condition had worsened and seeking additional treatment.  She failed to appear for an appointment with respondent’s expert on August 25, 2011.  On September 2, 2011, she was murdered.  Ready Pack was not aware of the petitioner’s demise and scheduled two more appointments.

On December 5, 2011, the Judge of Compensation was advised of the death of petitioner.  The hearing on that date was adjourned till March 19, 2012.  Because nothing was happening with respect to the case, respondent filed a motion to dismiss, which was granted on September 24, 2012.

In September 2013 counsel for Williams filed a motion to restore the case.  That motion was heard on October 28, 2013.  The Judge of Compensation denied the motion to restore with prejudice on the ground that petitioner failed to show good cause to reopen the case.

The issue in this case centered on the meaning of “good cause shown” under N.J.S.A. 34:15-54. The Judge of Compensation noted that all petitioner’s attorney had done in nearly 11 months was write two letters in an attempt to find petitioner’s representatives.  The Judge noted that Williams left no surviving dependents, so the purpose of the workers’ compensation statute had been fulfilled.

The petitioner appealed and argued that good cause had been shown.  The Appellate Division said the following:

The phrase ‘good cause’ has been interpreted as ‘a substantial reason that affords legal excuse for the default.’ . . . N.J.S.A. 34:15-54 ‘is intended to bring a compensation case to an end regardless of the merits in the event the claimant does not diligently prosecute his petition. ‘Good cause,’ therefore, is concerned not with the merits alone but as well with the excuse for the delay.

The Court added that the judge’s “concern regarding counsel’s failure to promptly address William’s lack of response and to attempt to keep the court informed is warranted.”  Nonetheless, the Court reversed the Judge of Compensation stating, “It is tempting to affirm the JWC’s order because, other than her death, counsel does not identify another factor in her favor.  Death is, however, a quite substantial factor.  The JWC’s discretionary ruling obviously prejudiced the substantial rights of Williams’s estate and her beneficiaries.”   The Court said that it would be inequitable to bar the door to Williams’ heirs if she was entitled to a recovery.

What this case shows is that the language of Section 54 requiring a case that has been dismissed to be reinstated within one year for “good cause shown”  is a very low bar indeed.  If a motion to reinstate is filed within one year from the dismissal date, the case will almost certainly be reinstated, no matter how weak the reasons for reinstatement.  The case can be found at Williams v. Ready Pack, A-1689-13T2 (App. Div. January 23, 2015).

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About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, 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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  1. Peter says:

    Informative post regarding good cause.

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