Explainer: The Standard of Review in a New Jersey Workers’ Compensation case

Appeals from workers’ compensation courts are directly to  the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division. R. 2:2-3.  The standard for review of a decision of a Judge of Compensation in most instances is governed by Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589 (1965). In Kordulak, the Supreme Court held that the standard of review for New Jersey Workers' Compensation Law 2017decision rendered by the Division of Workers’ Compensation is:

whether the findings made could reaosnable have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present int he record, considering the proofs as whole, with due regard to the opportunity of the one who heard the witnesses to judge of their credibility and []with due regard also to the agency’s expertise where such expertise is a pertinent factor.”

Id. at 599.

Judge of Compensation are considered experts on workers’ compensation matters and therefore their findings are entitled to deference. Lewicki v. New Jersey Art Foundry, 88 N.J. 75 (1981). The findings of a Workers’ Compensation judge must be supported by articulated reasons and predicated in evidence. Lewicki, supra. The standard of review assumes that necessary hearings have been held and that the fact findings of the administrative agency are sufficient to afford review. Factual findings are not adequate if they merely summarize the evidence. In re Issuance of Permit by DEP to Ciba-Geigy, 120 N.J. 164, 173 (1990); Lister v. J.B. Eurell Cp., 234 N.J. Super. 64, 74 (App. Div. 1989).

In the case of Manzo v. Local 76B, 241 N.J. Super. 604 (App. Div. 1990), cert. den. 122 N.J. 372 (1990), the Appellate Division explained that the standard set forth in Close v Kordulak, supra, is limited to controversies involving credibility determinations by the trial judge. The Court stated that:

where the focus of the dispute is not on credibility but, rather, alleged error in the trial judge’s evaluation of the underlying facts and the implications to be drawn therefrom, our function broadens somewhat. Where our review of the record ‘leaves us with the definitive conviction that the judge went so wide of the mark that a mistake must have been made,’ we may ‘appraise the record as if we were deciding the matter at inception and make our own findings and conclusions.’

Id. at 609; citing Snyder Realty v. BMW of N. Amer., 233 N.J. Super. 65, 69 (App. Div. 1989).

Greg Lois is the managing partner of LOIS LLC, a 19-attorney law firm dedicated to defending employers and carriers in New York and New Jersey workers' compensation claims. Greg is the author of a popular series of "Handbooks" on workers' compensation, and is the co-author of the 2016 Lexis-Nexis New Jersey Workers' Compensation Practice Guide. Greg can be reached at 201-880-7213 or glois@lois-llc.com