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Friday, August 5, 2011

Bad Faith Claims Maybe Going to the Jury

The NJ Supreme is going to review the procedure to bring bad faith claims against employers and insurance companies in workers' compensation actions. The Court accepted for review a case holding that workers' compensation bad faith claims are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the workers' compensation hearing official.

The case involves an injured worker who filed a civil action against his employer's workers' compensation insurance company for failing to comply with the Division of Workers' Compensation Order that medical treatment should proceed. The employee alleged that the delay and denial of medical care caused harm. The lower court had rejected the case and dismissed it holding that the jurisdiction for bad faith is exclusively within the purview of the Division of Workers' Compensation. Stancil v. ACE USA, 418 N.J. Super. 79, 12 A. 3rd 223 (App. Div. 2011), ___A.3d___, 2011 WL 3342730 (NJ). Decided June 7, 2011.

In another decision, the NJ Supreme Court held that bad faith, in a negligence action,  was a contractual issue giving rise to a factual question that could only be decided by a jury.

"We conclude that a Rova Farms claim that an insurer in bad faith failed to settle a claim within the policy limits, thereby in fact exposing its insured to liability for any excess, represents a traditional contract claim that the insurer breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and to which the right to trial by jury attaches." Wood v. New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company, 21 A.3d 1131, 2011 WL 2314954 (NJ), Decided June 14, 2011.

The Stancil
case highlights one of the most serious and costly issues in Workers' Compensation, both in NJ and the nation, the adequate and efficient delivery of medical care. While the courts are struggling with this issue that is compounded by arguments over reimbursement  and treatment paths, the compensation system continues to be bogged down and unresponsive to the urgency of the need to delivery medical care to injured workers.

For over 3 decades the Law Offices of Jon L. Gelman  1.973.696.7900  jon@gelmans.com have been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.