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Resolving disputes over New Jersey workers' comp benefits

Bergen County employers or their insurers may argue against claims filed by workers with job-related injuries or illnesses. Dispute resolutions are possible through hearings through the New Jersey Division of Workers' Compensation. Informal hearings are non-binding, unlike formal hearings that can lead to trial.

The hearings are conducted by assigned judges in the worker or employer's county. Workers are not required to hire an attorney for these proceedings, although legal representation is strongly advised. The injured party pays capped legal costs for informal hearings resulting in compensation; fees are shared with an employer or insurer in formal cases.

Claim petitions must be filed within two years of a workers' injury or the last benefits' payment date, whichever event occurs later. The injured employee has the option to request a formal hearing, after or without an informal hearing. Formal hearings generally help resolve complex claims, involving permanent disability or family members' benefits related to an employee's death.

Typically, informal hearings are requested for disagreements over the validity of the worker's claim, medical treatment and the temporary or permanent status of benefits. The process for informal claims takes less time than formal claims, with a resolution within a matter of weeks. The initial hearing for a formal claim may take months to be scheduled, with resolution time depending upon how the case progresses.

Formal claims frequently are settled before a trial takes place. When cases go to trial, a compensation judge considers testimony and evidence presented by the parties before making a ruling. The judge's decision is final, unless the ruling is appealed and overturned in Superior Court.

Attorneys realize a favorable legal outcome is imperative for injured workers and their families, who are dependent upon workers' comp benefits to pay the costs associated with an at-work injury. You can attempt to handle disputes on your own; however, an attorney's advice may be invaluable, considering the financial stakes involved.

Source: State of New Jersey, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, "Filing a Claim" Dec. 07, 2014

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