A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Superior Court Judge Rejects Dever Case and Holds Walmart Not Barred from The Recovery Of Its Workers’ Comp Lien

By on March 3, 2015 in Blog with 0 Comments

This week’s article is feature-written by my workers’ compensation department partner John H. Geaney, Esq.

Desirae Cintron was injured in a motor vehicle accident on September 20, 2011 while walking in the parking lot of a Walmart store where she worked.  She was struck by a vehicle driven by Marvin Thomas.  Cintron was eligible for PIP benefits because she lived with her father who had an insurance policy with NJM.  She brought a law suit against Thomas in civil court for damages.

The issue of Walmart’s workers’ compensation lien arose as part of the civil suit with defendant Thomas taking the position that Walmart had no lien rights because evidence of PIP benefits, which are collectible or paid under a standard PIP policy, are inadmissible in a civil action for recovery of damages. Because the plaintiff would not be able to recover her medical bills, the Defendant contended that Walmart would not be able to recover its lien for the payment of these bills. Defendant argued that the automobile reform legislation included a provision insulating a tortfeasor or person responsible for the accident from a claim for medical expenses and wage benefits that are paid by PIP.  The way this was accomplished was through a provision in the PIP law under N.J.S.A. 39:6A-12, which bars evidence of PIP benefits which are collectible or paid under an auto insurance policy. What this does, in effect, is prevent a double recovery of PIP benefits already paid out or due to the insured in a subsequent action.

Walmart intervened in this case to protect its lien. It contended that N.J.S.A. 39:6-12 did not apply to a suit involving an automobile accident in which the workers compensation carrier paid the medical bills. Because the cost of work-related auto car accidents is ultimately borne by the workers’ comp carrier, these benefits are not “collectible or paid” through PIP coverage and are admissible. Thus, it should be entitled to assert its lien to collect on the medical bills it paid.

Defendant relied heavily on the unreported case of Dever v. New Jersey Mfrs. Ins. Co., 2013 Wl 5730033 (App. Div. Oct. 23, 2013) for the proposition that there is no workers’ compensation lien in this situation.  Walmart, which was represented by Capehart Scatchard through Gina Zippilli Esq. and Betsy Ramos, Esq., argued to the contrary  that Dever is entitled to no precedential value and that the controlling case in this area is Lefkin v. Venturini, 229 N.J. Super. 1 (App. Div. 1988).

The Honorable Darrell Fineman, J.S.C., Law Division, Cumberland County, held in favor of Walmart.  “Plaintiff’s workers’ compensation lien is admissible because precedential case law controls, and there has been no indication that the statute has been changed as to workers’ compensation through the enactment of AICRA.”   The Judge said that the Lefkin case is binding on the court.  The Judge reasoned that workers’ compensation is ultimately responsible for payment of medical bills in a situation where the PIP carrier makes the initial payment.  The PIP carrier has a right of reimbursement against the workers’ compensation carrier.  Therefore, evidence of the medical bills should not be barred in the civil suit because they are not collectible under the PIP policy.  The Judge concluded:

In the case where both workers’ compensation and PIP apply, the workers’ compensation system is the ultimate payer of the plaintiff’s medical bills.  Therefore, it makes little sense to apply a bar created for the PIP statutory scheme and not a part of workers’ compensation statutory scheme.

This decision, which was rendered on February 23, 2015, is now the second decision in the Superior Court in the past few months rejecting the Dever case as having no precedential value and essentially being wrongly decided.  It is an important decision because there are so many employers in New Jersey who are trying to recover workers’ compensation liens where plaintiffs are defending by means of the Dever case.   For further information on this case, please contact me at bramos@capehart.com.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

*No aspect of this advertisement has been submitted to or approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

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