Available Defenses In New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Claims

In New Jersey, when an employer is faced with a claim for workers’ compensation benefits they may raise a number of defenses in order to avoid liability. These defenses include, but are not limited to, the defense of Employee Status, Statute of Limitations, Notice and Knowledge, Intervening Cause and Intoxication. Although the defenses are not limited to these five, this article will only explore these five in the hope of providing employers with a brief understanding of their potential defenses against workers’ compensation claims.

Employee Status

Probably the most commonly used defense, is the defense of Employee Status. This defense essentially prevents anyone who is a non-employee from bringing a workers compensation claim against an employer. An employee under the Workers Compensation Act is defined as someone who performs a service for an employer for financial consideration. N.J.S.A. 34:15-36. This definition, as you can see, is extremely vague and is not so easily distinguishable. People who fall into the category of a “casual employee” or an “independent contractor” are not employees for the purposes of this act. Please note, that although this defense prevents a person who is not an employee from bringing a claim under the Workers Compensation Act for injuries sustained at work, this defense does not prevent the person from bringing a tort lawsuit.

Statute of Limitations

Statute of Limitations, is a defense that is found in almost every area of law. This defense simply states that a claimant must bring their claim within two years of an accident or the last payment of compensation. If the claim is not brought within the two years as described above, the claim will be lost.

Notice and Knowledge

The defense of Notice and Knowledge, is a defense that prevents claimants from bringing claims when they fail to notify the employer within a certain time period. By rule, a claimant must provide notice within 90 days of the accident under N.J.S.A. 34:15-17. Constructive notice of the accident is sufficient in the sense that a claimant does not need to provide formal notice. As long as the employer becomes aware of the accident within 90 days, notice is given. The defense of notice is only applicable in traumatic injury claims and is not applicable to occupational injury claims.

Intervening Cause/Disobedience

The defense known as intervening cause or “disobedience” is a rarely-used defense which focuses on the employee’s behavior in the workplace. In such cases, the employer will need to prove that the employee’s claim for injury is based upon a self-inflicted injury. Note that the Act itself bars compensation for suicide and self-inflicted injuries at N.J.S.A. 34:15-7.

Intoxication

Finally, the defense of intoxication is a defense that bars an employee from receiving workers compensation benefits when intoxication is proved to be the sole cause of the employee’s injury. The courts generally interpret this defense to be non-applicable in most cases since it only applies when the sole cause of the injury was intoxication,which is very difficult to prove. Therefore, this defense is seldom used.

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Michael Gervolino is an associate attorney at Lois LLC where he defends employers and carrier in New Jersey workers’ compensation claims. He can be reached directly at mgervolino@lois-llc.com or 201-880-7213.