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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Home Modifications Denied as to An Elevator

Home modifications can be a very important, yet expensive, benefit available to injured workers. A New Jersey Appellate Court again reviewed the standard of proof for home modifications required to accommodate disabled workers. In doing so The Court  linked the need for medical evidence to be supported medical evidence when the improvement of mental health of the disabled worker is  at issue.

The standard of proof, was enunciated almost 3 decades by the NJ Supreme Court :
“Where the surroundings of the petitioner must be modified in order to accommodate his physical handicap, the court has required that the employer be responsible for making the adaptations. Not only is the physical well-being of the injured worker taken into consideration, but his mental state is considered as well. In the Squeo case, the employer was required to pay for the construction of an accessible apartment as an addition to the premises of the injured worker’s parents’ home.”  Squeo v. Comfort Control Corp., 194 N.J.Super. 366, 476 A.2d 1265 (App.Div.1984), aff’d 99 N.J. 588, 494 A.2d 313 (1985), N.J. Prac., Workers’ Compensation Law § 15.3 (3d ed.)

A partially paralyzed and wheelchair bound disabled worker requested home modifications of his residence to include: expansion of the kitchen, raising the family room floor, installation of a lift platform and an elevator. The employer contested several aspects including the installation of an elevator.

No medical evidence was offered by way of expert testimony to causally related the improvement of the injured workers’ mental health with the installation of an elevator to continue with such hobbies as woodworking. While the Compensation Judge made two on-site visits, and even though the respondent wasn’t diligent in timely requesting expert medical testimony regarding the issue, a lack of findings on the causal relationship between the need for the elevator installation necessitated a reversal of the Compensation Judge’s order as to the elevator.

The Court rationalized that…” While the elevator would appear to be beneficial, there is nothing in the record to demonstrate that it is "necessary" and its cost "reasonable" as those terms are used in Squeo. Ibid. The compensation judge was required to reach a decision consistent with Squeo, which "cautioned" that it is "only the unusual case that may warrant . . . extraordinary relief." Id. at 604. Based on the current state of the law, as set forth in Squeo, and the present record, we cannot agree that Loeber demonstrated that the elevator was "necessary."

The case was remanded to the Division of Workers’ Compensation so that the specific the remodeling could be resolved.

Loeber v. Fair Lawn Board of Education, A-1990-13T1 (NJ App Div 2014) Unreported