Database ‘Phase Out’ Likely to Cause delays in Settling NJ Workers’ Comp cases

As of March 3, 2009 the State of New Jersey ‘phased out’ half of the centralized computer system (the part maintained by the Department of Human Services) which tracks when a child-support payer is “behind” in their support obligations. Typically, when a case reaches settlement (either by section 20 or Order Approving Settlement) the court clerk will check the computer database to make sure that the claimant doesn’t owe past-due child support. If child support was owed, then the Order reflects that a certain portion of the settlement must be remitted to the appropriate county probation department to satisfy the support requirement.

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New case: Apportionment in Occupational Disease claims

The claimant, Maria R. Natale, alleged that as a result of her occupational exposures while employed by the respondent she suffered from permanent residual disability. Six insurance carriers wrote coverage for the employer over the period of employment (1980 to 2001). Normally, the Judge of compensation will rely on the “Bond Doctrine” and hold that the “last carrier on the risk” is responsible for the overall disability.

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“Emergency Contact Person” rule in effect – avoid fine

S-1916 now requires that “emergent” requests for medical treatment be heard within 10 days of the request being filed with the court. What classifies as an ‘emergent’ motion for medical and temporary benefits? One where a doctor states that a worker is in need of emergent medical care and that “delay in treatment will result in irreparable harm and damage.” The respondent will have five days to file an answer to such a motion and the matter will be listed for hearing “within five calendar days of the filing of an answer.” A penalty of $2,500 will be assessed for each employer or insurance carrier who fails to designate a ‘contact person’ for such motions.

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Premises liability – real estate brokers

The Appellate Division considered in Reyes, et al. v. Egner, et al., etc .,(decided January 8, 2009) whether the lessors of a beach house had a duty to correct or warn about what are claimed to be dangerous conditions of their property, presenting hazards that allegedly were not reasonably apparent to a short-term tenant and her guests.

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Exposure to perfume held “not compensable” injury

In Sexton v. County of Cumberland, decided January 9, 2009, the Appellate Division upheld a denial of benefits from a Petitioner who alleged that her pre-existing respiratory illness (COPD) was aggravated by a co-worker spraying perfume into the air of the workplace. The workers’ compensation judge found that such aggravation was not compensable because it did not arise out of the employment but instead arose out of a “personal proclivity” of the petitioner. The Appellate Division reversed his conclusion, finding that such an aggravation was compensable under N.J.S.A. 34:15-7 because it did arise out of this employment.

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Insurance carrier forced to disclose computerized claims-adjustment process

A federal judge in Camden has handed down what appears to be the first federal court ruling to allow an insured to inspect a carrier’s computerized claims-adjustment process. U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider directed Allstate to produce “the data, pricing and software Allstate used between 2000-2004 to adjust property losses in New Jersey,” along with passwords, keys and activation codes needed to access and use it.

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