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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Medical Treatment is an Exclusive Remedy Not a Reasonable Accommodation

The NJ Supreme Court has held that the provision of medical treatment does not equate to a "reasonable accommodation", therefore an employee cannot claim under the Law Against Discrimination [LAD] that failure to provide medical care was actionable. The provision of medical treatment is an exclusive remedy of the Workers’ Compensation Act.

The Court also addressed that the NJ Workers’ Compensation Act [NJWCA] and the LAD Act were “inexorably intertwined” and concluded that the need for medical treatment was an exclusive remedy and the NJWCA. Failure to pursue that remedy promptly did not permit an additional claim against the employer later under the LAD. 

A case involved a Jersey City Police Department [JCPD] officer injured in the line of duty in August 1999. The inured worker filed a NJ workers’ compensation claim in 2001 and is was evidenced that subsequent total knee surgery would be needed. The officer applied for retirement from the police department in August 2010 and retired on March 1, 2011. In March 2013 he settled him NJ workers’ compensation action. Thereafter the injured worker filed an LAD action against the JCPD alleging failure to provide reasonable accommodation (knee surgery). 

Justice Solomon writing for the NJ Supreme Court stated that , “ ’The Workers' Compensation Act reflects ‘ a historic trade-off whereby employees relinquish[ ] their right to pursue common-law remedies in exchange for automatic entitlement to certain, but reduced, benefits whenever they suffer[ ] injuries by accident arising out of and in the course of employment.” Stancil, 211 N.J. at 285, 48 A.3d 991 (quoting Millison v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 101 N.J. 161, 174, 501 A.2d 505 (1985) ). In essence, by virtue of accepting guaranteed benefits under the Act, ‘the employee agrees to forsake a tort action against the employer.’ Ramos v. Browning Ferris Indus., Inc., 103 N.J. 177, 183, 510 A.2d 1152 (1986) (citing Morris v. Hermann Forwarding Co., 18 N.J. 195, 197-98, 113 A.2d 513 (1955) ). Therefore, subject to certain statutory exceptions, the Act provides the exclusive remedy for an employee who sustains a work-related injury to obtain relief from his employer. See Van Dunk v. Reckson Assocs. Realty Corp., 210 N.J. 449, 459, 45 A.3d 965 (2012) (‘The Act's exclusivity can be overcome if the case satisfies the statutory exception for an intentional wrong.’); see also Laidlow v. Hariton Mach. Co., Inc., 170 N.J. 602, 611, 790 A.2d 884 (2002) (referring to N.J.S.A. 34:15-8 as ‘the so-called exclusive remedy provision’).” 

The Court, in dismissing the case, held that medical treatment under the LAD did not qualify as a “reasonable accommodation.” The Court reasoned that, “The medical procedure sought by Caraballo -- his double knee replacement surgery -- is neither a modification to the work environment nor a removal of workplace barriers. Rather, it is a means to treat or mitigate the effects of his injuries, like the treatments at issue in Desmond. We therefore find it consistent with the LAD, the ADA, and their regulations that Caraballo's total knee replacement surgery cannot qualify as a reasonable accommodation under the LAD.” 

Caraballo v City of Jersey City Police Department, ___ N.J.____ (NJ 2019), 2019 WL 1320658, Decided March 25, 2019.


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). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman  1.973.696.7900  has been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.