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Shaun Conrath, a Burlington County College employee, was injured at work when he was attacked by a fan while coaching a basketball game. He filed a claim petition, and Travelers Casualty Insurance Company of America (hereinafter “Travelers”) filed an answer on behalf of the College. Travelers negotiated a settlement of $35,000 on behalf of the College on a Section 20 basis on February 3, 2012. Three weeks after the settlement occurred, Travelers first became aware that it did not insure the College.
Nine months after the order was entered, Travelers moved to modify the award to reflect that Travelers was not the correct carrier for Burlington County College. The College opposed the motion and argued that Travelers was bound by the settlement agreement.
The Judge of Compensation held that he did not have a statutory basis nor jurisdiction to reopen the settlement. Travelers disagreed and contended that the interests of justice required the Judge of Compensation to reopen the settlement and amend the order to name the correct carrier, which was the New Jersey Community College Insurance Pool as administered by Qual-Lynx. Travelers appealed the decision of the Judge of Compensation to refuse to amend the order.
The Appellate Division held that in certain cases of mistake or inadvertence, a record may be reopened. However, in this case the Court concluded that the Judge of Compensationdid not have jurisdiction to reopen this matter:
Travelers, however, did not present sufficient cause to reopen the settlement to change the identity of the settling entity. If Travelers is entitled to reimbursement for a settlement it mistakenly entered into, it must seek such reimbursement from the liable entity in another court. As Travelers acknowledges, petitioner is not at blame nor should petitioner be involved in litigation seeking to modify the settlement. Workers’ Compensation Court is not the proper forum for litigation between two insurers after a judgment has been entered and payment of that judgment made to petitioner.
The Court went on to say that the Division of Workers’ Compensation is the forum for deciding issues of compensability or appropriate benefits for work-related injuries but not for disputes between employers after a mistaken settlement occurs. It said that the Division should not be involved in a post-judgment dispute between two insurers. “The Judge of Compensation correctly determined that he lacked jurisdiction to entertain Travelers’ litigation against BCC to amend the judgment. This is particularly true in light of the fact that Travelers waited until October 19, 2012 to move to correct the Judge’s February 3, 2012 judgment. Travelers could have sought to be dismissed from the action prior to paying the judgment.”
As practitioners know, it is a common problem in New Jersey that the wrong carrier is listed by the claimant on the claim petition. This case underscores why it is important for carriers and third party administrators to work promptly to amend the pleadings before final orders get entered with incorrect information.