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Carrier that Mistakenly Represented Employer Cannot Use Comp Court to Obtain Reimbursement

By on July 10, 2014 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments

Shaun Cronrath, a Burlington County College employee, was injured at work when he was attacked by a fan while coaching a basketball game.  He filed a claim petition, and Travelers Casualty Insurance Company of America (hereinafter “Travelers”) filed an answer on behalf of the College.  Travelers negotiated a settlement of $35,000 on behalf of the College on a Section 20 basis on February 3, 2012.  Three weeks after the settlement occurred, Travelers first became aware that it did not insure the College.

Nine months after the order was entered, Travelers moved to modify the award to reflect that Travelers was not the correct carrier for Burlington County College.  The College opposed the motion and argued that Travelers was bound by the settlement agreement. 

The Judge of Compensation held that he did not have a statutory basis nor jurisdiction to reopen the settlement. Travelers disagreed and contended that the interests of justice required the Judge of Compensation to reopen the settlement and amend the order to name the correct carrier, which was the New Jersey Community College Insurance Pool as administered by Qual-Lynx.  Travelers appealed the decision of the Judge of Compensation to refuse to amend the order.

The Appellate Division held that in certain cases of mistake or inadvertence, a record may be reopened.  However, in this case the Court concluded that the Judge of Compensation did not have jurisdiction to reopen this matter:

Travelers, however, did not present sufficient cause to reopen the settlement to change the identity of the settling entity.  If Travelers is entitled to reimbursement for a settlement it mistakenly entered into, it must seek such reimbursement from the liable entity in another court.  As Travelers acknowledges, petitioner is not at blame nor should petitioner be involved in litigation seeking to modify the settlement.  Workers’ Compensation Court is not the proper forum for litigation between two insurers after a judgment has been entered and payment of that judgment made to petitioner.

The Court went on to say that the Division of Workers’ Compensation is the forum for deciding issues of compensability or appropriate benefits for work-related injuries but not for disputes between employers after a mistaken settlement occurs.  It said that the Division should not be involved in a post-judgment dispute between two insurers.  “The Judge of Compensation correctly determined that he lacked jurisdiction to entertain Travelers’ litigation against BCC to amend the judgment.  This is particularly true in light of the fact that Travelers waited until October 19, 2012 to move to correct the Judge’s February 3, 2012 judgment.  Travelers could have sought to be dismissed from the action prior to paying the judgment.”

As practitioners know, it is a common problem in New Jersey that the wrong carrier is listed by the claimant on the claim petition.  This case underscores why it is important for carriers and third party administrators to work promptly to amend the pleadings before final orders get entered with incorrect information.  This case may be found at Cronrath v. Burlington County College, A-4667-12T2 (App. Div. June 23, 2014). 

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John H. Geaney

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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