A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Judge of Compensation Properly Denied Employee’s Request for Commutation of Settlement

By on May 13, 2015 in Compensability with 1 Comment

Unlike many states, most settlements in New Jersey are paid out over a period of weeks, often with payments carrying out well into the future.  For example, if an employee receives an award of 40% permanent partial disability, the award is paid over 240 weeks in equal payments beginning with the last payment of temporary disability benefits.  When an employee seeks to accelerate those payments into one lump sum check, this is known as a commutation.  Permission must be obtained from the judge.

A recent case illustrates the issue.  Terrance Jenkins received an award of permanent disability benefits.  He applied to the late Virginia Dietrich, Judge of Compensation, for the sum of $16,000 in commutation funds from the remaining award of $28,000, which was being paid in equal amounts over many weeks.  He contended that he wanted to open a small business selling fish and chips.  He testified in workers’ compensation court that he wanted to build on his mother’s current catering business.  However, he admitted that his mother’s business had few customers, and he needed to purchase equipment and supplies for the business.  Furthermore, he was in arrears on his rental payments for the business premises and needed to pay off his mother’s debts.

Judge Dietrich reviewed the provisions of N.J.S.A. 34:15-25. That section states, “Commutation is to be allowed only when it clearly appears that an unusual circumstance warrants a departure from the normal manner of payment and not to enable the injured employee . . . to satisfy a debt, or to make payment to physicians, lawyers or others.” Applying this standard, the judge rejected the request for commutation concluding that this “would be throwing good money after bad.”  She further found that the petitioner did not have a sound business plan and had managed to get over-extended financially.

The Appellate Division affirmed the rejection of the commutation request because of the reasons provided by Judge Dietrich.  The case shows that it is really quite difficult to obtain a commutation in New Jersey.  Very few requests get approved because judges look out for the best interests of employees.  This case may be found at Jenkins v. L.A. Fitness, A-3570-12T2 (App. Div. February 4, 2015).

It is important for practitioners to realize that a commutation is improper when it is caused by the employer or carrier by mistake.  For example, suppose an employer or carrier is supposed to pay out an award over the next 52 weeks.  Due to a misunderstanding or computer error, the company pays the entire 52 weeks of future payments in one lump sum to the employee.  This amounts to a commutation, and it would be illegal because only a judge of compensation can approve a commutation.

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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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There is 1 Brilliant Comment

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  1. Manfred Ricciardelli says:

    What should happen when a carrier mistakenly pays an award in one lump sum? Is the Petitioner entitled to additional payments, made over time, essentially receiving double payments for that period of the award? How, if at all, is the two year time period within which a Petitioner may re-open the claim impacted. Thanks.

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