An Employee Must Utilize All the Administrative Remedies Available Under the Workers' Compensation Act Before Pursuing a Claim in the Law Division

06.20.19

Category: New Jersey

The New Jersey Supreme Court rendered an opinion that requires exhausting all remedies under the Workers' Compensation Act before pursuing a civil action. In Caraballo v. City of Jersey City Police Department, the court specifically addresses whether an employee (officer) who pursues a workers' compensation claim under the Act, but failed to utilize its enforcement mechanisms, may make a claim for failure to accommodate under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination Act (LAD).

While on duty in August 1999, the officer sustained injuries to his hands, back, knees and legs during a motor vehicle accident. In August 2001, he filed a workers' compensation claim and underwent an ACL reconstruction of the left knee. Two city-appointed doctors agreed that he would need total knee replacements to recover fully from his injuries.

His attorney notified the respondent for the need for surgery and requested that counsel authorize an orthopedic surgeon to evaluate for the surgery. He was instructed to pick a date for the surgery pending medical and cardiac clearance. However, a date was never chosen.

On March 4, 2013, the officer settled his workers' compensation claim. He thereafter filed a complaint against the JCPD for a cause of action under the LAD. He alleged that the JCPD failed to authorize his knee replacement surgery and to reasonably accommodate his disability.

The trial court found that he could not bring a viable LAD claim because he failed to enforce his right to have knee surgery in the workers' compensation court. Since he did not file a Motion for Med/Temp, he was precluded from using a denial of workers' compensation benefits as a basis for his LAD claim.

The Appellate Division reversed the decision stating that there was a material dispute as to whether the officer would have been able to perform his job duties with the accommodation of the total knee replacement surgery.

The NJ Supreme Court agreed with the trial court indicating that under the Workers' Compensation Act, an employee must exhaust all of his administrative remedies available in Workers' Compensation Court before seeking enforcement in the Law Division. The officer never sought to enforce his right to surgery in the Workers' Compensation Court by filing a Motion for Med/Temp disability benefits. The officer's failure to utilize the Act's administrative remedies to obtain the surgery precluded his failure to accommodate the claim under the LAD.

Comment: The Act provides the exclusive remedy for an employee injured at work. This case protects employers from civil suits for any denial of workers' compensation benefits.

For more information, please contact Cheryl A. Binosa at cbinosa@wglaw.com or 973.854.1061, or Jeffrey D. Newby at jnewby@wglaw.com or 856.667.5804.

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