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Tobin v. All Shore All Star Gymnastics

378 N.J. Super. 495, 876 A.2d 326 (App. Div. 2005)

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION; TEMPORARY DISABILITY—An employee who is granted temporary disability benefits is still entitled to receive the benefits where the employee is able to perform light work and no light work is available to the employee.

A woman was the owner and president of a corporation that operated a gymnastics studio. She was employed as its chief gymnastics instructor, but she also performed duties incident to her position as owner of the gym, such as supervising the business and unlocking the facility. She received only a salary for her duties as an instructor and not as owner of the gym. In 2003, she injured her right shoulder as a result of an incident occurring at work. She applied for, and was granted, temporary disability compensation by reason of her inability to perform her duties as a gymnastics instructor. After receiving the benefits for a couple of months, the woman was asked by the company’s insurance carrier to see a doctor for a second opinion. After examining the woman, the doctor concluded that the woman was able to return to work to perform “lite duty.” For the next four months, the woman resumed her duties as the owner of the gym, but because of her injury, she was still unable to perform her duties as an instructor. She received no salary during this period because she was not paid for any work that she performed outside of gymnastics instruction. A dispute arose as to whether she was entitled to continue to receive temporary disability benefits. It was asserted that she was not entitled to disability benefits because she was still able to perform her “light duties” as the owner of the gym. The woman argued that she was entitled to the benefits because no light duty was available at the gym for which she could receive compensation. The Division of Workers’ Compensation ruled in favor of the woman holding that although under the circumstances, her employer was required to offer light duty, the employer is still under the obligation to provide temporary disability benefits if no light duty is available for which the employee can receive compensation.

The Appellate Division affirmed the ruling. On appeal, the insurance carrier, on behalf of the woman’s company relied on Tamecki v. Johns-Manville Products Corporation, 125 N.J. Super. 355 (App. Div. 1973) in asserting that the woman was not entitled to benefits because of her ability to perform light work. In Tamecki, the court reversed the granting of temporary benefits to a student that was injured during a summer job. The Court distinguished the present case from Tamecki holding that, in Tamecki, the student was able to return to school despite his injury and would not have been totally disabled if he had remained in the labor market. Here, the Court reasoned that an employee’s ability to do some light work is not a basis for denying benefits when the employee is trained in a skill which cannot be performed because of injury or when an employer has no light work available. It further ruled that an employee’s ability to perform light or intermittent work is not inconsistent with total incapacity warranting disability benefits.

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