On September 23, 2014, the State of New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development Division of Workers’ Compensation decided the matter of Lewis Pitts, v. Leon Industries, Inc. In this case, the petitioner suffered severe burns at his place of employment. During his treatment, drug tests revealed the presence of marijuana in his system. Based upon these test results, the petitioner was fired for failure to comply with company policy.
The petitioner subsequently filed a claim petition along with a Motion for Medical and/or Temporary Disability Benefits, seeking temporary disability benefits and reimbursement of medical expenses. The respondent contended that the petitioner voluntarily removed himself from the work force on the day of the accident by willfully violating company policy and, therefore, the petitioner did not incur any real wage loss.
In finding that the petitioner was entitled to temporary disability benefits, the Court relied upon Erin Dorsey v. First Atlantic Federal Credit Union and held that the Petitioner’s claim for disability was asserted prior to his termination. The fact that the Petitioner’s inability to return to work occurred prior to his termination made this case distinguishable from Cunningham. The Court confirmed that the, “Petitioner was not restored to the point where he could resume work when he was fired for alleged misconduct.”
The Respondent also raised the defenses of intoxication and fraud, however those defenses were later abandoned. The Court also found that the Petitioner was entitled to permanency benefits, attorney fees, costs, as well as reimbursement for medical expenses. Finally, the Court determined that the respondent “unreasonably” refused to pay benefits and therefore, a 25% penalty, which is the equivalent of $5,265.00,was issued against the respondent pursuant to N.J.S.A. 34:15-28.1.