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New Jersey Governor Vetoes Two Major Workers’ Compensation Bills Opposed by Employers

By on January 14, 2016 in Uncategorized with 1 Comment

On Monday, January 11, 2016, Governor Chris Christie issued vetoes of two bills long supported by the petitioners’ bar in New Jersey and strongly opposed by employers and carriers.

S-374/A-3403 involved legislation sponsored by attorneys for injured workers to increase their legal fees.  This particular legislation was aimed at voluntary offers that employers have been making for many decades under the law.  N.J.S.A. 34:15-64 provides that if an employer makes a voluntary offer of permanency within 26 weeks of the date of maximal medical improvement or return to work, whichever date is later, the employer pays no counsel fees on the amount offered, and neither does the injured worker.  This provision is an inducement to employers to make offers of permanency long before the case settles.  The voluntary offers put money quickly in the hands of injured workers and save counsel fees for both parties.

Claimants’ attorneys sought to eliminate the benefit to the employer and employee of not paying counsel fees on the amount offered.  The bill was pushed hard by attorneys for injured workers solely to augment their legal fees even though this would have meant that injured workers would pay more as well as employers.  For example, if an employer offered $5,000 early in the case within a few weeks of maximal medical improvement, the proposed bill would allow the claimant’s attorney to obtain a fee of $1,000 on the $5,000 offer.  That $1,000 fee would be paid $400 by the injured worker and $600 by the employer.  Current law provides that the claimant’s attorney gets no fee on the $1,000 early offer.  But current law does permit the claimant’s attorney to obtain a fee on any benefits paid to claimants at the end of the case in excess of the amount of the early offer.

S-264/A-1347 involved a series of proposals targeted to benefit certain public safety workers.  One of the provisions of this bill would create a rebuttable presumption that any cancer must be presumed to be work related to a New Jersey firefighter, if that firefighter has seven years of service.  In other words, even if the firefighter developed skin cancer in his foot, the judge must presume that it is work related unless the employer can prove that it is not.  All internal cancers – colon, prostate, liver, bladder, etc – would be presumed to be work related.

Another aspect of this bill provided that illness due to vaccines received in connection with an employee’s employment would be work related, if the vaccine pertained to potential bioterrorism or epidemics.  This proposal applied to all employees, not just public safety workers.

The bill also covered public safety workers who get exposed to communicable disease, biological warfare or epidemic-related pathogen in the course of employment.  Such workers would be covered under workers’ compensation as far as medical treatment even if the worker does not have the disease.  Should the worker subsequently contract the disease there is a rebuttable presumption that the condition is work related.

While the Governor rejected these two bills, he did pass one less significant bill which raised the amount that an evaluating physician can receive to $600 for an evaluating report.

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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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