New Jersey Judge Expands Workplace Injury Jurisdiction Beyond Administrative Court System

By Greg Kohn

I have a workplace injury claim in New Jersey. Where do I file and litigate my claim?

When it comes to legal complexities, jurisdictional matters rank close to the top of the list of confounding issues facing plaintiffs and defendants. As a foundational principle, a tribunal must have jurisdiction to preside over a matter – otherwise, the outcome of the proceeding will be null and void. Accordingly, parties often grapple with whether to file a claim in state versus federal court, one county versus another, or even one state versus another.  And, when it comes to workplace injury claims, New Jersey claimants now have the choice of filing in administrative court versus Superior Court – depending upon the worker’s status as an employee or contractor.

Court’s Unanimous Decision in Estate of Kotsovska v. Liebman

In June, 2015, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision that workplace injury claimants are no longer limited strictly to the administrative powers of the workers’ compensation court. By contrast, workplace injury cases involving a genuine dispute over the victim’s employment status are now eligible for review by state trial courts, as was the case in the Estate of Kotsovska v. Liebman.

In the Liebman case, the victim Ms. Kotscovska was hired as a live-in maid for the elderly Mr. Liebman. As part of her work duties, she was to cook, clean, and care for Mr. Liebman in his home. In exchange for her work, Mr. Liebman’s daughter paid her $100.00 per day in cash.

In December, 2008, Kotscovska and Liebman decided to patronize a local diner. While waiting on the sidewalk for Liebman to park the car, he inexplicably accelerated and pinned her to the exterior wall of the diner. Due to the extensive damage to her lower extremities, Ms. Kotscovska succumbed to her injuries approximately one year later.

Following a lengthy procedural battle, Kotscovska’s relatives were forced to file a wrongful death lawsuit in workers’ compensation court, even though counsel argued she was an independent contractor of Mr. Liebman. Nonetheless, her family was awarded $586,000 – likely a fraction of the year-long costs of her injuries.

After several appeals, the case was finally accepted by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which held “[w]e conclude that when … there is a genuine dispute regarding the worker’s employment status, and the plaintiff elects to file a complaint only in the Law Division of the Superior Court, the Superior Court has concurrent jurisdiction to resolve the dispute….”

The case was then remanded to Superior Court for further review consistent with the opinion.
If you are facing a difficult workplace accident or personal injury issue, please do not hesitate to contact the experienced and reputable Essex County attorneys at Nagel Rice, LLP today.

About the Author
Greg Kohn is a partner at Nagel Rice and specializes in complex civil litigation cases, including professional malpractice, personal injury, class actions, wrongful death, products liability, and commercial litigation.  He has extensive experience representing clients in both state and federal court. Greg has tried many jury trials to verdict and has recovered over $50 million in settlements and verdicts in all types of personal injury matters including automobile accidents, wrongful death cases, slip and falls, and other catastrophic injury cases. Greg also handles medical malpractice cases, involving misdiagnoses, wrongful birth, and delayed cancer diagnosis. If you have questions regarding this article, you can contact Greg here.