Copyright

(c) 2018 Jon L Gelman, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

An Unpaid Volunteer Firefighter Not Entitled to NJ Workers’ Compensation Temporary Benefits

The NJ Appellate Division held, in an opinion, that an unpaid and unemployed volunteered firefighter was not entitled to temporary workers’ compensation benefits. The Court affirmed the compensation judge’s finding that without the receipt of any wages temporary benefits were not payable.


Trial Court ruled:


“The workers' compensation judge denied Kocanowski's application for temporary benefits. Although finding that “petitioner's volunteer work is laudable and certainly entitles her to both medical treatment and permanent disability for her injuries,” the judge denied the application for temporary benefits. The judge stated, “The case law in New Jersey is clear, petitioner must be receiving wages to merit receiving temporary disability replacement for those wages.” Kocanowski's application for penalties under Amorosa v. Jersey City Welding & Machine Works, 214 N.J. Super. 130 (App. Div. 1986) , also was denied. The March 30, 2016 order denied temporary benefits but provided that “ [i]ssues of medical treatment remain pending.”

Facts:

The injured volunteered firefighter was not receiving wages in that capacity at the time of the accident and was not employed at another job.

Holding:

Statutory language requires the payment of a weekly wage and the inability to work, as a prerequisite for the payment of temporary workers’ compensation benefits.


Appellate Court Held:

“ We agree with the compensation judge that although a volunteer firefighter is entitled to temporary benefits at the maximum rate and that the seven-day waiting period does not need to be served, there first must be an entitlement by the volunteer to payment of temporary benefits. That payment depends on proof of lost wages. Neither the cases nor the statutes supports Kocanowski's argument that lost wages are not required for volunteer firefighters who are injured. Because there was no proof of lost wages, there is no entitlement to payment of temporary disability benefits."

Analysis:

The statutory prerequisite of wages being paid to obtain an award for workers’ compensation benefits must be enforced. The payment of premiums are based on the payroll paid by the employer. The employer in this instance is a public entity and the legislature obviously wanted to keep costs contained for communities that needed to rely upon a volunteer workforces for fire safety services. If the State of NJ and/or other public entities desired to establish a more cost effective benefit system to provide compensation benefits for those volunteers serving their communities, it could be done outside the classic NJ Workers’ Compensation Act.

JENNIFER KOCANOWSKI, Petitioner-Appellant, v. TOWNSHIP OF BRIDGEWATER, Respondent-Respondent.
Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.
December 11, 2017
175 A. 3d 968, ___ A.3d___ (App. Div. 2017)


Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters). 
Updated: 2/15/18 Reported Case Citation