Trial Courts Can Now Hear Workplace Injury Cases

A court case known as Estate of Kotsovska v. Liebman opened up new barriers on June 11, 2015, when it was decided that there is no reason why a matter cannot be handled as a tort claim in Superior Court when a worker is being disagreed upon as an employee or contractor. In New Jersey on June 11, matters were questioned and ruled – and eventually, Supreme Court decided that cases of workers injured or killed on the job do not always have to be treated as workers’ compensation cases. This ruling was brought up in the case where a family of a Ukrainian immigrant, Myroslava Kotsovska, working as a maid, was killed while accompanying her employer with errands. The family saw the ruling as a victory because her wrongful death verdict brought in $525,000 in damages.

Further Details on the Kotsovska Case

The initial problem in the Kotsovska case is that the Division of Workers’ Compensation must make a decision on whether or not Kotsovska was an employee of the defendant or if she was an independent contractor. Details on the case stated that she was a 59-year-old woman who was hired in October 2008 as a live-in maid for Saul Liebman, who is an 81-year-old widower. Kotsovska was hired to cook, so laundry, and other light housekeeping. She also accompanied him on some errands. Kotsovska was paid $100 a day in case by Robin Ross, Liebman’s daughter. Liebman had workers’ compensation coverage through his homeowner’s policy, even though there was no discussion revolving around if she was a real employee of Liebman’s.

The fateful event took place on December 8, 2008. Kotsovska and Liebman had stopped for lunch at the Millburn Diner. Kotsovska was standing on a sidewalk when Liebman, who was parking his car, suddenly accelerated and struck her. This caused her to be pinned to a low patio wall, where her leg was severed below the knee. Kotsovska died of her injuries a year later. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against him in Union County. The case was refused to be moved to workers’ compensation court since no claim had been filed there. The jury then found Kotsovska to be an independent contractor and awarded the family $525,000 in damages, which was later increased to $568,806.

As Far as Workers’ Compensation is Concerned…

Employers will routinely move to have personal injury cases removed to the workers’ compensation court, because the awards are generally lower than those afforded by trial juries or Superior Court judges. That doesn’t mean that removal should be automatic, though, and employers do not just get to allege it in cases. In fact, the Workers’ Compensation Act was enacted in 1911 as a means for ensuring employees injured on the job to receive prompt and automatic benefits. These are typically set by regulation for the injuries sustained. In return, employees are automatically surrendering their rights to sue in the Superior Court. The statute is silent as to the role the workers’ compensation system should play in handling independent contractors. (2)

New advances are being made all the time when it comes to courts and what they believe is acceptable and deem just. If you have been part of a workplace injury and feel that you are entitled to compensation, you should speak to a trusted attorney today. At MDL, no case is too small or difficult. We will help you on your journey.