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All Dependents Including Minors Are Bound by the Two-Year Statute in Workers’ Compensation

By on February 8, 2018 in Policy with 0 Comments

Scott Jeannette was an employee of General Mills Progresso. He went into cardiac arrest at work on June 7, 2011 and died nine days later from complications.   He left a wife, Nacole, and a four-year-old son, Chase. Nacole filed a dependency claim petition over six months past the two-year statutory filing deadline. General Mills Progresso denied the claim as time barred. The Judge of Compensation denied both the widow’s claim and her son’s claim as time barred, leading to an appeal.

Ms. Jeannette argued on appeal that she experienced a period of temporary incapacity, which should excuse her failure to file in a timely fashion. As to her son, she argued that his claim should be tolled due to his infancy.

The Appellate Division considered the main argument of Ms. Jeannette, which was that a decision by the Supreme Court in a non-workers’ compensation context mandated a more liberal interpretation of the workers’ compensation statute, as it reads, N.J.S.A. 34:15-51 requires claimants to file their petitions in workers’ compensation within two years of the date of the accident.   The statute also provides that “proceedings on behalf of an infant shall be instituted and prosecuted by a guardian, guardian ad litem, or next friend.”  The statute goes on to provide that any claims not filed within the two-year period are forever barred.

Counsel for Ms. Jeannette argued that the case of Lafage v. Jani, 166 N.J. 412 (2001) should apply to workers’ compensation. In that case the Supreme Court of New Jersey allowed surviving children to bring a claim under the Wrongful Death Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:31-1 to -6, for a parent’s death even after the statute of limitations period had expired.   The Appellate Division rejected the argument that this wrongful death statute applied to workers’ compensation cases:

While we acknowledge the Court’s directive to apply statutes of limitations flexibly, we cannot ‘rewrite a plainly-written enactment of the Legislature or presume that the Legislature intended something other than that expressed by way of the statute’s plain language.’

(citations omitted). The Court reasoned, “Here, the Legislature did not include a tolling provision for minors in the workers’ compensation statute, and we do not presume the omission was a legislative oversight.” The Court noted that the Legislature must have considered the rights of minors because they did provide for guardians to represent minors in workers’ compensation.

In essence, the Court relied on the clear reading of the workers’ compensation statute and acknowledged that workers’ compensation is a creature of statute. It will be interesting to see if the widow seeks certification from the Supreme Court on this issue. The case can be found at Jeannette v. General Mills Progresso, A-5417-15T2 (App. Div. February 6, 2018).

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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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