When seeking reimbursement on behalf of a carrier or employer under New York Workers’ Compensation Law Section 29 (“Section 29”) or N.J.S.A. 34:15-40 (“Section 40”) a particular scenario arises all too frequently: one of the other parties asking that the reimbursement right be reduced by equal measure against all parties; the “one-third, one-thirds one-third” offer. The carrier does not have to accept this reimbursement offer and in many cases should not!
At the most simplified level there are three prospective recipients of any settlement value in a civil case that involves a Section 29 or Section 40 lien: the claimant/petitioner, the third-party plaintiff’s attorney and the employer or workers’ compensation carrier. In this basic three-party structure, an even split of the settlement proceeds in to thirds would seem to make logical sense. In fact, the third-party plaintiff’s attorney will frequently assert that this is the “norm,” and that this is how “every case” ultimately resolves. They will also usually proffer some rationale as to why the Section 29 or Section 40 lien should be compromised, typically regarding issues with liability and allegedly poor chances of success at trial. Essentially, their argument is that some reimbursement is better than no reimbursement, and therefore the lien should be compromised to induce the claimant/petitioner’s consent to settlement. When it comes to such arguments, however, it is vital to keep in mind the legislative intent behind Section 29 and Section 40 and the protection the courts give that intent.