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Frappier v. Eastern Logistics, Inc.

400 N.J. Super. 410, 947 A.2d 693 (App. Div. 2008)

WORKERS COMPENSATION; INSURANCE — A workers compensation court’s jurisdiction over claims for accidental injuries extends only to claims by an employee against an employer and not to the question of an insurer’s obligation to provide coverage.

A New Jersey trucker filed claim petitions with the Division of Workers Compensation seeking benefits for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. The trucker alleged that the accident occurred during, and arose from, his employment. The alleged employer defended the claim based on the argument that the trucker was an independent contractor and not an employee covered by New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation Act. The trucking business’s insurer defended the trucker, but reserved its right to disclaim coverage. The trucker’s attorney moved to join the insurer in the workers compensation proceeding and to estop the insurer from denying coverage.

The compensation judge denied the motion to join the insurer, holding the insurer was already in the case. The insurer filed an interlocutory appeal of the order estopping it from denying coverage for the trucker.

The Appellate Division held that because the insurer was not a party to the workers compensation proceeding, and the court had not determined whether the trucker was an independent contractor or employee, it was improper for the compensation court to exercise ancillary authority to address an insurance coverage question. The Court noted that the compensation court’s jurisdiction over claims for accidental injuries extends only to claims by an employee against an employer, and the question remained whether the individual for whom coverage was reserved was an employee. In order for the compensation court to exercise authority over the insurance coverage question, the Court pointed out that there must be a basis for jurisdiction over the underlying claim. Furthermore, the Court stated the insurer was not a named party to the compensation proceeding and the court did not join the party on motion. Therefore, the Appellate Division vacated the order estopping the insurer from its right to reserve coverage and remanded the matter for further proceedings on the claim petition.


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