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Saturday, August 6, 2011

An Employer Is Responsible To Compensate For Pain

A NJ Appellate Court, in a dramatic reversal of a compensation judge's dismissal of a case, held that "an employer is responsible to compensate" an injured worker for pain.  The reviewing court held that, "...the judge misapplied some standards bearing upon this case."

The trial judge's conduct, in baring the treating physician from testifying, was also cited as "a discretionary lapse." The trial judge's ruling was reversed and the case remanded for a hearing.

The case involved a long standing injury that required prolonged treatment for a chronic medical condition. The injury occurred in June of 1989 and was the subject of an Order Approving Settlement in January 2004 for 20% of partial total. That award was entered by another trial judge.

Even thought an Order had been entered by the prior trial judge for continued medical treatment and medication, the insurance company unilaterally terminated provision of those benefits without a court order. The claimant's attorney, George Goceljak, was required to file two motions for continued medical treatment and medication benefits. The trial court dismissed the case for lack of prosecution and then subsequently restored the matter for trial and then marked it "not moved" when a minimal one-cycle (3 week) adjournment was requested. Customarily, NJ workers' compensation cases are tried in piecemeal, every 3 to 6 weeks.

The trial judge then mandated that the trial should begin immediately on January 15, 2010, commenting that she was, "...not going to wait" any longer for the the claimant to proceed with his case. She denied a reconsideration of the application of the injured worker to allow the treating physician to testify, and then proceeded in a 5 month stagnated trial ultimately dismissing the case.

The NJ Appellate Division found, "the judge erred is using, out of its context, the simple thought that 'an employer is not required to compensate and employee for pain,' as a basis for denying this petitioner's application. The larger that, to the extent that a petitioner experiences continuing pain as a result of his work-connected injury, the employer for whom he worked at the time of the injury remains responsible.'"

Noto v. Staples, Inc.,  Docket No. A-0237-10T1, 2011 WL 3273921 (NJ App. Div. 2011) Decided August 2, 2010