The New Jersey Workers’ Compensation system was the focus of an investigation conducted by the Star-Ledger Newspaper , one of the most widely-read newspapers in New Jersey. The articles (which ran consecutively in April) concluded that “bureaucratic delays, politics and poor state oversight have left thousands of injured workers waiting years for the relief promised by the compensation system.” The three-part article has led to a New Jersey Senate Labor Committee hearings scheduled to begin May 5th in Trenton to examine ways to “reform” the workers’ comp system in New Jersey.
To summarize, the Star-Ledger articles were highly critical of the Department of Labor and the Division of Workers’ Compensation – calling our adversarial benefits-litigation process “slow,” “inefficient,” and “harmful.” The stories in the three-part series focused on claimants who waited long periods of time for benefits (including one claimant who died while awaiting medical treatment). Statistics from the Division of Workers’ Compensation show that the average claim scheduled for a pre-trial conference is adjourned 15 times before final settlement!
The Star-Ledger examined the legal education and professional experience of the current Judges of compensation and noted that very few had actually practiced workers’ compensation law before they became workers’ comp judges. Most had political connections and appointments before they were nominated for the bench; the article called the appointment of comp judges a purely “political” process.
In a related article (“Secretive Board of Insiders Steers Workers’ Comp”, date: May 4, 2008) the Star-Ledger investigated the New Jersey Compensation Rating and Inspection Bureau (NJCRIB), finding that the Board of Directors is dominated by insurance executives and that rate hikes had occurred in the last seven years while the national average premium had actually declined (link).
One possibility that insiders have speculated about has been the creation of a “Workers’ Comp Ombudsman” to assist injured workers as they navigate the system and the institution of an “alternate dispute resolution” process (without attorneys representing the employer or employee). Stay tuned.