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In brief: Trial of New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Cases

In 2015 employers reported 134,580 accidents in which employees suffered injury or occupational disease. In the same year, 34,500 new claim petitions were filed in the New Jersey Division of Workers’ Compensation. An additional 6,250 re-opening claim petitions were filed in the same period. The vast majority of trials are resolved by the parties before testimony is completed and before a judge makes a final determination. Approximately 160 of those cases will be decided by the Division’s Judges after a complete trial.

Trial & Evidence

All workers’ compensation trials are decided solely by a Judge of Compensation: there is no jury. A judge is given wide latitude to decide cases. The standard of proof for a judge’s findings was outlined in the Supreme Court case of Close v. Kordulak. The court inquired “whether the findings made could have been reached on sufficient credible evidence in the record after giving due weight to (the judge’s) expertise in the field and his opportunity to hear and observe the witness.” See Close v. Kordulak, 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965).

Judge as “expert” and Non-consecutive trial dates.

Judges of Compensation are considered “experts” in the areas of medicine and employment and decisions of Judges of Compensation at trial are given extra weight by reviewing courts. Think of the Workers’ Compensation Judge assigned to hear your case as an “expert.”

The administrative rules set forth by the Department of Labor control how trials are presented in the Workers’ Compensation Division. Trials are not (usually) conducted on consecutive days. Instead, trials take place over several months, with each party presenting witnesses separately. The usual order is: first, the testimony of the claimant. Next, any lay witnesses (any person not an expert) testify (usually the employee’s supervisor or witness to the disputed incident). Then the petitioner’s expert physicians, and finally the respondent’s expert physicians. Note that after each party presents a witness, the other side then has the opportunity to cross-examine that witness.

Trends and Practical Advice.

Currently, and based on analysis of the twenty year trend statistics, 2% of all workers’ compensation cases in New Jersey are tried. As set forth above, an even smaller percentage of cases reach judicial decision (most are settled after the petitioner’s testimony is taken). “Conclusion” of a trial is either: (a) settlement, (b) dismissal, or (c) judicial decision. Following dismissal or decision, there is an opportunity to appeal the findings.

Because trials are non-consecutive, they rarely go “all the way” to verdict. After each step of the litigation process, and after each witness testifies, there is a break in proceedings, sometimes for several weeks or months while witness schedules are accommodated. This provides the parties with ample opportunity to limit the issues in dispute and compromise or settle the claims, which is generally more efficient than proceeding to final judgment.

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Download Our New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Law Handbook

This is the 2023 edition of Gregory Lois’New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Law Handbook.”

THE MOST PRACTICAL, up-to-date, and easy-to-understand guide to workers' compensation claims in New Jersey. This book is designed for employers, attorneys, claim adjusters, physicians, self-insured employers, and vocational rehabilitation workers. This guide is written in plain English by a New Jersey State attorney and provides a detailed analysis of relevant statutes and regulations; a complete recap of recent court decisions including 2021 & 2022 cases; and a full description of current practice.

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Learn More About New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Defense at LOIS

For more than 20 years we have represented insurance carriers, self-insured employers, third party claim administrators, and employers before New Jersey’s Division of Workers’ Compensation. Our founding partner, Gregory Lois, is co-author of the LexisNexis “Practice Guide to Workers’ Compensation in New Jersey” (2017, ISBN:9781632838735) and served as Law Clerk to Hon. Joan Mott, Administrative Supervisor of Workers Compensation.

Along with partners Karen Vincent and Joe Jones (New Jersey Practice Group Team Leader) and a dedicated team of experienced attorneys and paraprofessionals, we handle New Jersey cases from cradle-to-grave. We want to be by your side, moving cases aggressively to closure from the start of litigation all the way through to settlement.

We only assign one attorney and one paralegal to each case. The attorney/paralegal assignments are made based on the court the case will be listed in.

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