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Superior Court Judge Rejects Dever Case and Holds Walmart Not Barred from The Recovery Of Its Workers’ Comp Lien

By on March 3, 2015 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments

Desirae Cintron was injured in a motor vehicle accident on September 20, 2011 while walking in the parking lot of a Walmart store where she worked.  She was struck by a vehicle driven by Marvin Thomas.  Cintron was eligible for PIP benefits because she lived with her father who had an insurance policy with NJM.  She brought a law suit against Thomas in civil court for damages.

The issue of Walmart’s workers’ compensation lien arose as part of the civil suit with defendant Thomas taking the position that Walmart had no lien rights because evidence of PIP benefits, which are collectible or paid under a standard PIP policy, are inadmissible in a civil action for recovery of damages. Because the plaintiff would not be able to recover her medical bills, the Defendant contended that Walmart would not be able to recover its lien for the payment of these bills. Defendant argued that the automobile reform legislation included a provision insulating a tortfeasor or person responsible for the accident from a claim for medical expenses and wage benefits that are paid by PIP.  The way this was accomplished was through a provision in the PIP law under N.J.S.A. 39:6A-12, which bars evidence of PIP benefits which are collectible or paid under an auto insurance policy. What this does, in effect, is prevent a double recovery of PIP benefits already paid out or due to the insured in a subsequent action.

Walmart intervened in this case to protect its lien. It contended that N.J.S.A. 39:6-12 did not apply to a suit involving an automobile accident in which the workers compensation carrier paid the medical bills. Because the cost of work-related auto car accidents is ultimately borne by the workers’ comp carrier, these benefits are not “collectible or paid” through PIP coverage and are admissible. Thus, it should be entitled to assert its lien to collect on the medical bills it paid.

Defendant relied heavily on the unreported case of Dever v. New Jersey Mfrs. Ins. Co, 2013 Wl 5730033 (App. Div. Oct. 23, 2013) for the proposition that there is no workers’ compensation lien in this situation.  Walmart, which was represented by Capehart Scatchard through Gina Zippilli Esq. and Betsy Ramos, Esq., argued to the contrary  that Dever is entitled to no precedential value and that the controlling case in this area is Lefkin v. Venturini, 229 N.J. Super. 1 (App. Div. 1988).

The Honorable Darrell Fineman, J.S.C., Law Division, Cumberland County, held in favor of Walmart.  “Plaintiff’s workers’ compensation lien is admissible because precedential case law controls, and there has been no indication that the statute has been changed as to workers’ compensation through the enactment of AICRA.”   The Judge said that the Lefkin case is binding on the court.  The Judge reasoned that workers’ compensation is ultimately responsible for payment of medical bills in a situation where the PIP carrier makes the initial payment.  The PIP carrier has a right of reimbursement against the workers’ compensation carrier.  Therefore, evidence of the medical bills should not be barred in the civil suit because they are not collectible under the PIP policy.  The Judge concluded:

In the case where both workers’ compensation and PIP apply, the workers’ compensation system is the ultimate payer of the plaintiff’s medical bills.  Therefore, it makes little sense to apply a bar created for the PIP statutory scheme and not a part of workers’ compensation statutory scheme.

This decision, which was rendered on February 23, 2015, is now the second decision in the Superior Court in the past few months rejecting the Dever case as having no precedential value and essentially being wrongly decided.  It is an important decision because there are so many employers in New Jersey who are trying to recover workers’ compensation liens where plaintiffs are defending by means of the Dever case.   For further information on this case, please contact Betsy Ramos, Esq. at bramos@capehart.com.

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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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