If you have been in a work-related motor vehicle accident and you file a third party claim for injuries suffered in the crash, your company’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier may be entitled to a portion of any recovery you receive in the personal injury lawsuit, if you also received workers’ compensation benefits. A New Jersey appellate court came to that conclusion in August, 2016.
In an appeal that consolidated claims from three different insurers, the court was asked to reconcile competing provisions of two New Jersey statutes: the Workers’ Compensation Act and the Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act. All three cases involved public workers who were hurt on the job and who had recovered damages in personal injury actions for medical expenses.
At the trial level, all three courts held that workers’ compensation insurance companies could not seek reimbursement of medical expenses in such occasions, as the Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act prohibits reimbursement of medical expenses collected or paid under personal injury protection (PIP) policies. The trial judge concluded that, because an injured employee in a work-related accident is treated as a “no-fault” insured, the worker can’t recover medical expenses from the defendant if those medical expenses have been paid by an insurance company—that would be a double recovery. The judge concluded that, because the injured party could not recover medical expenses, the damage award could not and did not include compensation for medical expenses, so that workers’ compensation insurance company had no basis for reimbursement.
The appellate court disagreed, finding that the Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act seeks to minimize insurance costs by guaranteeing medical expense coverage. Since the recovery could include reimbursement of medical expenses, and since the Workers’ Compensation Act allows a workers’ compensation insurance provider to seek reimbursement of any medical expenses paid, the requests of the insurance companies were permissible.
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