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Is It Time For A Delay Of Game Penalty And Workers' Compensation?

Delay has always been a problem when injured workers need medical treatment.  Traditionally, insurance companies, especially in hard economic times, have sought to hold onto their money and not distribute benefits.  In a recent New Jersey workers' compensation case, the Appellate Division refused to allow the insurance company to "snow" the court with excuses on why it should not provide medical care to an injured worker.

A worker was seriously injured when he was struck by a forklift and was pinned against the wall by the machinery.  An MRI indicated that the injured worker suffered a right hip anterior labral tear and the worker was conservatively treated with injections and chiropractic care.  After nine months lost time he was able to return to work part time with a restricted limit to lifting of 20 pounds..

Six months after his return to work while merely walking through deep snow and he suffered a re-occurrence of the right hip pain and limitation of motion of the limb. Arthroscopic hip surgery was required.  Prior to surgery, the workers' compensation carrier denied responsibility and refused to provide medical care.

The worker was required to file a notice of motion to seek reimbursement for medical treatment and temporary disability benefits.  The respondent denied causal relationship raising the defense of an intervening superseding event.  The respondent also claimed that the motion was moot since medical treatment had already occurred.  The Division Workers' Compensation, issued a written decision in December 2007, 22 months after the respondent refused to provide medical treatment. An appeal was taken in nine months later, before the Appellate Division of the state New Jersey and the trial court decision was affirmed.  The process took 29 months.

The Appellate Division in its decision did not address the issue of why the system takes a long, but it did comment upon the fact that the defenses raised by the respondent did not meet the threshold level to reverse the trial ltrial court's decision.  The Appellate Division indicated that the motion was not moot merely because the medical treatment was subsequently rendered and that the employer did not establish that the injured workers suffered an independent and subsequent injury in February of 2006.

This case highlights the fact that the workers' compensation process has a major failing.  While the State of New Jersey has perennially attempted to address these issues legislation has not been enacted to improve the system.  The process itself is fraught with problems and does not keep up with the advancements in medical science and delivery of modern medical care in an expeditious and efficient manner.  The hurdles that the injured worker has to j navigate provide substantial barriers for injured workers and their advocates.  In a system that was supposed to be remedial, efficient and summary, has now turned into a dilatory litigation machine utilized by employers in an effort to defeat claims.  The same employers who complain that reimbursement of medical benefits through secondary payers such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, have now made a simple process into a complex and painfully slow remedy. The practice of snowing the court with meritless defenses, without penalty, i.e.  pre-judgment interest, contributes to further destruction in workers’ compensation program.

Cuccineillo v Sports Authority, 2008 WL 4329874 (N.J. Super. App. Div.) Decided September 24, 2008.

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