Appellate Court Affirms Sanction And Attorneys Fees For Employer’s Failure To Abide By Court Order

In Pschunder-Haaf v. Synergy Home Care of South Jersey, a petitioner filed a claim petition asserting that a work place accident caused injures to her spine, neck, and head. The Judge of Workers’ Compensation ordered the employer to provide medical and temporary disability benefits. An Order was entered on September 7, 2010, permitting treatment with Dr. Cervantes and continuing temporary wage benefits until the petitioner was returned to work or a light duty position was accommodated.

The employer failed to pay the medical benefits and also terminated the petitioner’s temporary disability benefits. The judge eventually entered two Orders to Enforce the September 2010 Order. The employer continued its ongoing refusal to provide treatment and, eventually, two more Orders were entered requiring the employer to provide medical and/or temporary disability benefits. An amended claim petition was filed alleging derivative injuries.

Eventually, a hearing took place at which time the judge issued an oral decision in February 2014 compelling the employer to provide medical treatment for primary and derivative injuries and pay temporary disability benefits. A Motion for Reconsideration filed by the employer was denied and sanctions were entered against the employer in the amount of $5,000 and $10,000, $7,500 in attorneys’ fees, and $5,654.10 in reimbursement for expenses.

The employer appealed, contending that the amended claim petition was procedurally deficient, that the February 2014 Order went against the weight of the evidence and that the imposition of sanctions and award of fees were erroneous.

The Appellate Court rejected the employer’s argument that the claim petition was procedurally deficient. With respect to the employer’s contention that the judge’s decision was against the weight of the evidence, the Appellate Court reviewed “whether the findings reasonably could have been reached on the basis of sufficient credible evidence in the record, with due regard to the agency’s expertise.” In confirming that the J.W.C.’s findings were supported by credible evidence, the Appellate Court was satisfied with the J.W.C.’s reliance on the medical records, evidence, and testimony. As cited by the Appellate Court, the J.W.C. found that the petitioner’s expert, Dr. Craig Rosen, testified more credibly than the employer’s expert, Dr. Maslow. In fact, the J.W.C. stated that Dr. Maslow’s testimony was insulting to the court as it “flagrantly flies in the face of the medical records and reports.”

Finally, the Court considered the award of sanctions, fees, and costs ordered by the J.W.C. As set forth in N.J.A.C. 12:235-3.16(h)2, a judge of compensation is permitted to institute fines and penalties. The Appellate Court affirmed the J.W.C.’s imposition of the $5,000 sanction and attorney fees. However, the Appellate Court remanded the portion of the $5,654.10 award as the J.W.C. did not provide an explanation for requiring reimbursement. In addition, the Appellate Court remanded the $10,000 sanction as the Court found that the J.W.C. abused her discretion by awarding a sanction in excess of the Division’s rules which permits a fine of $5,000 for continued noncompliance. The Court did note, however, that a sanction could be imposed, if warranted, pursuant to N.J.A.C. 12:235-3.16(h)2.

Date Published: March 1, 2017


Written by: James Paoli

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