On October 1, 2008, Governor Jon Corzine signed into law five bills aimed at fixing New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation System. Significantly, the bills should reduce the long delays in making injured workers whole. The legislation, the State’s first workers’ compensation overhaul in thirty years, was the product of public hearings that followed a series of articles in the The Star-Ledger of Newark that were critical of systemic delays. The articles also described a bureaucracy that was easily manipulated by employers and their attorneys.
The bills give workers’ comp judges more authority to enforce their orders, penalize employers who fail to provide workers’ comp insurance coverage for their workers, and ensure that employees injured on the job are given prompt and adequate treatment as well as short term disability benefits. In pertinent part, the bills provide:
- S-1913: Permits workers’ comp judges to hold a separate hearing on any issue of contempt, and if contempt is found, the successful party can file a motion in Superior Court for enforcement. A judge may also impose costs and simple interest on money due and, in the event of an unreasonable delay, may award legal fees of up to 20 percent of the award.
- S-1914: Strengthens enforcement actions against employers for failure to provide workers’ comp coverage. Those employers that knowingly fail to provide coverage can be charged with a second, third, or fourth degree crime and can be fined up to $5,000.
- S-1915: Requires all employers to submit proof of workers’ comp coverage as part of its annual report. If a statement of proof is not included, the annual report will not be considered as properly filed.
- S-1916: Requires that when a doctor states an injured worker is in need of emergent medical care that employer has not authorized, the worker can file a request for treatment with the Division of Workers’ Compensation. The division and the employer must answer the request within five calendar days.
- S-1917: Revises the membership of the Compensation Rating and Inspection Bureau, presently made up primarily of insurance industry representatives. Instead, the bill requires the Department of Banking and Insurance to include members who do not represent the industry, but rather representatives of employers, labor, and licensed insurance producers.
It will be interesting to see how these new measures alter the landscape of the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation System. Hopefully, these laws will prove to be adequate in aiding injured workers and ensuring unscrupulous employers and persons will not be able to “work” the system.