Modified New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Procedures in the Age of COVID-19
Posted April 20, 2020
In an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the New Jersey Division of Workers’ Compensation took swift action. On March 16, 2020, it was announced that all Court calendars were suspended from March 17, 2020 through April 3, 2020.
As part of that directive, all New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Courts were closed to the public as well as all “non-essential” Court staff, which had included Judges. During that timeframe, only emergent Motions for Medical and Temporary Benefits were heard telephonically by the Chief Judge. All other matters were postponed giving rise to speculation and concern on behalf of attorneys, employers, and injured workers in need of benefits.
As of April 6, 2020, in response to a strong push by the Workers’ Compensation Bar, the Honorable Russell Wojtenko Jr., Director and Chief Judge of Compensation, announced one Judge from each of the 15 vicinages was designated as “essential” personnel. Those Judges were directed to return to their home courthouse to proceed with hearing as many matters as possible, including emergent motions, non-emergent motions, settlements, and pre-trial conferences. Since that date, claims have been heard electronically via either telephone or video conferencing.
It is important to note that each Judge that has been designated as essential personnel has their own procedures for reviewing lists and hearing cases. There is no uniform procedure across the state. For that reason, the Chief Judge has directed that if questions arise regarding a scheduled hearing, motion, conference, or other matter, attorneys and litigants are directed to contact the individual Court by email, fax, or telephone.
Our firm’s workers’ compensation practice involves representing both injured workers and employers in the Division of Workers’ Compensation in each of the vicinages throughout the State of New Jersey. In my experience, primarily in the southern vicinages including Camden, Mt. Holly, and Bridgeton, the Courts have been extremely responsive and are striving to continue to move cases through the process. This has allowed injured workers to continue to receive medical treatment, temporary disability benefits (i.e. wage replacement), and permanent disability awards. Similarly, employers have been able to continue to resolve claims thereby avoiding a backlog of cases and increased costs and fees associated with litigation. Although the days of lawyers appearing in Court to represent their clients are temporarily halted, litigants should feel confident that their cases will not be unreasonably delayed.
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