On June 19th, 2014, I had the opportunity to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee and testify on behalf of Bill S347. S347 is a bill regarding a modified voluntary tender offer. The New Jersey workers’ compensation statute, N.J.S.A. 34:15 64, allows for an insurance company to make a payment within a specific period of time to an injured worker after they’ve completed medical treatment. This offer would be a cash advance against the final outcome of the case. The issue has been that when the insurance companies make these voluntary offers the petitioner’s attorney is no longer entitled to a fee on any money that is provided to the injured worker in advance of settlement negotiations. The new legislation, which was being proposed, would have entitled the attorney to a fee on any money paid to the petitioner. Prior to my testifying, there was an amendment to the bill which stated that when an insurance company makes a voluntary tender prior to that person engages a lawyer and then the person engages an lawyer, that attorney can only receive an attorney’s fee on the difference between what the attorney acquires for the injured worker and what had previously been paid by the insurance company. However, the amendment also indicates that if the person had engaged an attorney and the insurance company makes a voluntary tender then the attorney would be entitled to a fee on any of the money that had been paid.
So I had the opportunity to testify, a first for me, which was very exciting. Prior to being in front of the Judiciary Committee, I was speaking to our legislative liaison, Peter Guzzo, who indicated that there are two things that one never wants to actually know how it’s made, one is sausage the other is law. Having testified I would agree with his assessment. Specifically, it appeared that based on the amendment to the bill there was a certainty to the Vote that the bill would leave committee.
It was a thrill to be part of the process and to at least know that the bill itself got out of committee and now will be heard by the Senate and hopefully move forward to the Governor’s office. There was opposition to the bill which was presented by the insurance and business industry, as the bill in their mind would cause greater attorneys’ fees and less money to the injured workers. However, factually the injured worker would actually receive a greater amount of money as a result of the attorney’s efforts and although there would be a fee on the money, the overall dollars put into the petitioner’s pocket would be greater.
The statistic that was raised was one by the insurance industry, was somewhat frustrating or rather disheartening, in the sense that so many people who are injured are not pursuing workers’ compensation claims. It is my experience that there are any number of reasons why a person won’t pursue a claim: they are fearful for their job, they don’t want to sue their job or are unaware of what benefits they’re actually entitled to receive. It’s imperative to know the most important benefit an injured worker can receive through workers’ compensation is not only medical treatment as they run through the process but future medical protection if their condition were to worsen subsequent to the resolution of their claim.
Based on these numbers, I write this article in an attempt to try having injured workers at least recognize that if they are communicating with the workers’ compensation carriers they do not have their interests at heart and their rights and/or benefits are not necessarily being protected despite the fact that they may think that the insurance company is being helpful. Too many times, in my almost 19 year legal career, I’ve seen situations where an individual initially doesn’t want to pursue benefits because of the reasons expressed earlier; however, once they are made aware of what their true benefits are they wish to pursue a claim because they’re upset that nobody from the insurance company or their employer explained to them what their rights really are.
Based on the presentation made by the insurance industry, I suggest to anyone who has been injured while working to at least seek counsel from a lawyer who is certified as a workers’ compensation attorney to understand what their true benefits are, and after knowing what their true benefits are, whether they would like to pursue a claim.
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