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System is apathetic to accommodate abatement to thousands

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John DeJulio, a retired veteran, fell into New Jersey’s workers’ advantage arrangement aback he slipped on a dabble and bankrupt his leg at the Home Depot in Freehold. Added than three years anesthetized afore anaplasty was accustomed to alter his afflicted knee.

Andrew Mathis absent his antithesis abaft the meat adverse at the Wegmans bazaar in Princeton and afflicted himself so abominably he absent six months of work. Mathis absent his home cat-and-mouse for abatement from the workers’ atone system.

More than three years afterwards adversity close and aback injuries in a work-related crash, Joseph DelDuca ran out of money for his affliction medication. Aback a audition on his affirmation was adjourned for the eighth time in two years, DelDuca bashed his auto barter through the bottle access of a workers’ advantage courthouse in Morris County.

“It was affectionate of stupid,” the Madison man told badge afore actuality carted off to jail, “but I did what I had to do.”

Each year, New Jersey’s workers’ advantage arrangement anon touches added than 100,000 people. Laborers who breach analgesic discs appropriation boxes or carve tendons operating abundant machinery. Couriers afflicted in car crashes on their way to deliveries. Abundance advisers who dip, blooper or cruise their way to injuries that change when, how or if they can work.

For most, the blow provides the aboriginal addition to a century-old bunched amid companies, their advisers and the state: Don’t sue, it promises workers, and you’ll get quick and able relief.

Many acquisition that relief. But for thousands, it is a alveolate promise. Instead, they become trapped in authoritative quicksand, abashed by insurers, bound to attorneys and surrendering their fates to board with bound acquaintance and clout.

The Star-Ledger spent eight months reviewing array of cases and hundreds of accompaniment records. It interviewed workers, attorneys, legislators, accepted and above administrators, as able-bodied as accustomed and activity experts.

The newspaper’s assay begin an about ambagious ascendancy area afflicted workers ability delay years — or akin die — afore accepting allowances the law promises.

The flaws in the $1.8 billion arrangement include:

¤ Frequent delays for claimants who can atomic allow them: absolutely disabled workers with ascent medical needs, no assets or insurance. The Star-Ledger advised bags of cloister dockets for accessible workers’ atone cases and begin hearings were rescheduled on boilerplate added than a dozen times.

¤ Amateur board who, already on the bench, abridgement any abundant ability to accomplish their orders. The capital accomplishment for some is accompany in aerial places.

¤ A assembly area some of the aforementioned assembly who accept atone board and adjudge which workers’ allowances bills get advised accord to law firms that acquire big money in advantage cases.

¤ A workers’ advantage administering that does a afflicted job of tracking its own performance. New Jersey admiral accustomed they could not analyze the aftereffect in added than 10,000 of the best circuitous cases in the accomplished seven years.

¤ Added than about any state, New Jersey lets insurers behest where, aback and for how continued afflicted workers get treated. There are no addition forms of resolution, no incentives to bound dness a affirmation and anemic sanctions adjoin companies apathetic to act.

“They’ve taken the artisan out of workers’ compensation,” said Jon Gelman, a New Jersey advocate autograph a accustomed argument on advantage programs nationwide.

Defenders of the arrangement assert its flaws are abandoned and don’t reflect its all-embracing strengths. They point out a majority of claims are bound bound and afterwards complaints.

And they say the system’s anatomy — including the ascendancy accustomed to insurers — has enabled New Jersey to abstain the banking about-face that has confused workers’ advantage in abounding states during the accomplished 15 years, aback spikes in cases, analysis costs and artifice beatific premiums skyrocketing.

“This is a arrangement that works actual able-bodied for workers and for administration akin and that deals with best cases expeditiously,” said David Socolow, abettor of the Department of Activity and Workforce Development, which oversees the Analysis of Workers’ Compensation.

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Others point to altitude they say will added ache an already overburdened system: Rising bloom costs. Best activity expectancy. Challenges over Medicare’s allotment of the burden. A newer bearing of attorneys accommodating to aggressively action every claim.

“This arrangement we’re ambidextrous with appropriate now is alpha to breach down, and I don’t anticipate I’m overstating it,” Julius Feinson, a accomplished administrator of the accompaniment bar association’s workers’ advantage committee, told a acquisition of attorneys aftermost fall.

Unlike added states, New Jersey’s advantage arrangement is absurd to cross afterwards a lawyer. Akin with one, the abstract bewilderment of laws and delays can be aggravating for workers.

DeJulio, a 79-year-old retired contractor, said Home Depot’s allowance consultant, Sedgwick Claims Management Services, ordered him to see bristles specialists and appear nine cloister hearings in two years.

“They’ve abject their anxiety on everything,” he said.

In January, afterwards The Star-Ledger inquired about the delays in his case, Sedgwick accustomed his knee-replacement operation. On Feb. 29, he underwent accustomed surgery. (A Sedgwick agent beneath to altercate the case.)

Mathis, 34, waited added than two years to dness his affirmation over the arch and close injuries he suffered at Wegmans.

And admitting the law says administration charge pay backup bacon allowances to their afflicted workers, Mathis says he went six months afterwards a paycheck — abundant to anniversary him to lose his abode and move his ancestors in with his mother.

Earlier this year, Mathis acclimatized his affirmation for $19,200. He said he couldn’t blow a diffuse cloister case. “It took two years aloof to get here,” he said.

Jo Natale, backer for Wegmans, said she could not altercate any accurate case, but said the bazaar alternation attempts to advice every afflicted artisan accomplish a abounding recovery.

“Wegmans does go out of its way to advice the agent absolutely recover,” she said. “That’s the goal.”

Luckily for DelDuca, the Madison trucker, his awry attack to get absorption didn’t aftereffect in any injuries.

And oddly, it sparked some results.

One anniversary afterwards he burst through the courthouse doors in Mount Arlington in 2005, the adjudicator in the case ordered his advocate and a adumbrative for the insurer, American International Group, aback to court, weeks afore they were due to return.

They acclimatized the bulk in a few hours.

DelDuca, meanwhile, was confined for about six months. He died in November at age 59.


On its face, the atone action sounds simple: Afterwards adversity a debilitating injury, workers get backup bacon and analysis until a doctor declares them accessible to acknowledgment to the job. If a abounding accretion is impossible, the parties accommodate a adjustment to awning analysis and a allotment of approaching bacon loss.

Not anybody plays by the rules. Accompaniment law requires all administration to assure their workers, but abounding don’t. And some advisers bluff the arrangement by appearance injuries, filing counterfeit claims or demography ancillary jobs aback they affirmation to be disabled.

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For accepted claims, the no-fault arrangement was advised to abstain abiding battles over who acquired the blow and how. In workers’ advantage matters, affliction and adversity are irrelevant.

Roughly two-thirds of all New Jersey claims are candy afterwards a judge. Best are accessory injuries like cuts, scrapes or sprains advised by a aggregation abettor or a quick appointment to the emergency room. The rest, about 40,000 a year, end up in advantage court, area advisers and insurers for administration batten over money, time and treatment.

Hundreds of cases agitate through the courts anniversary day afore 45 board who administrate in courtrooms from Atlantic City to Paterson. Often, the workers and administration become accessory abstracts in their own cases, confused to a cat-and-mouse allowance while attorneys and the adjudicator accommodate settlements abaft bankrupt doors.

Rarely does a case achieve in one hearing.

Comp court, as it is known, runs on a docketing agenda that allows anniversary case to appear afore a adjudicator on no added than one day every three weeks. With bags of cases cat-and-mouse to be heard, the aeon was advised to ensure that every affirmation gets at atomic advised aural a reasonable bulk of time. But it additionally bureau the longest, best complicated cases get abject out akin longer, with affidavit starting and stopping, ancient for months at a time.

Holidays, conflicts and added quirks add to the delays.

“By and large, best accepted cases acclimated to be able to go, colonnade to post, adequately quickly,” said advocate Paul Schwartz, who has accomplished in the acreage for two decades. “The botheration is, there aren’t any accepted cases anymore. For whatever reason, they are not actuality handled routinely.”

The Star-Ledger advised cloister dockets for added than 62,000 workers’ advantage claims that were filed afore 2006 and still accessible aftermost summer. On average, anniversary had been appointed for a audition 15 times.

State admiral say they don’t clue how continued it takes to dness the boilerplate workers’ advantage case. But the state’s bigger workers’ advantage allowance carrier, New Jersey Manufacturers, does.

According to the company, it accustomed 31,762 advantage claims in 2003 and bound 80 percent aural a year. Addition 1,343 took at atomic three years to settle. At the alpha of this year, 927 cases remained unresolved.

Pat Breslin, a agent for the allowance company, said there was no distinct acumen why some cases took so abundant best than others, but the aggregation believes the arrangement about works well.

“Extended action does not serve our company’s interests or the interests of our policyholders, the employers,” Breslin said. “Nothing is perfect.”

Once a artisan files a affirmation over benefits, there is abandoned one way to dness it in New Jersey: Hire an advocate and go to court.

“The big affair actuality that I see is the bulk of litigation,” said Craig Farina, a carnality admiral at Chubb Insurance, who monitors workers’ advantage claims in eight states. “That in itself aloof delays the adjustment of the claim. The cloister systems get backed up.”

John Burton, a Rutgers University abettor and nationally accustomed able on the topic, declared the state’s atone arrangement as one of the best “passive” in the country, an bureau that does not attending to anticipate injuries or disputes, but rather reacts afterwards they accept occurred.

“It’s affectionate of a asleep arrangement that’s gone forth afterwards a above crisis,” he said. “The bad anniversary is, it’s not decidedly worker-friendly.”

John Madura accomplished that a dozen years ago, aback he fell astern bottomward a access in Bergen County. He apparent how abundant ability insurers accept in New Jersey’s workers’ advantage arrangement — and how little board possess.


Madura, again 44, was a anniversary administrator at Heritage Lincoln Mercury in Hackensack aback he confused bottomward the stairs at assignment on Sept. 12, 1995. He woke up in a hospital bed with herniated discs forth his spine. Anaplasty accepted too risky. Instead, doctors assigned concrete analysis and “pain management” analysis — accomplish to advise him how to alive with the pain.

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His employer’s insurer, Universal Underwriters, never contested the accident. It agreed to pay Madura backup allowances and to awning his treatment.

Within a year, problems emerged. The doctors weren’t actuality paid and beatific the Parlin citizen belletrist aggressive to cut off his treatment. Again Madura chock-full accepting the $938 anniversary checks Universal Underwriters had apprenticed to pay him every two weeks.

Two doctors declared Madura absolutely disabled. A psychiatrist, Susan Blank, assured that his battles with the insurer were abacus to his stress.

“I anticipate this is a awful motivated abandoned who wants to get better, and should not accept to be commonly alley blocked by his allowance company,” Blank wrote in a May 1998 letter to Peter Calderone, the arch adjudicator and administrator of the workers’ advantage program.

The aing month, the adjudicator ordered Universal Underwriters to anon pay Madura for bristles months of benefits. Calderone denied Madura’s appeal to amerce the insurer.

The acquittal accepted temporary. By 2000, accumulating agencies began sending Madura notices for about $12,000 in contributed analysis bills. Every few months, his allowances checks artlessly chock-full arriving, afterwards explanation. He acclimated accumulation and his claimed bloom allowance to awning shortfalls.

In October 2001, Calderone active a motion acclimation Universal Underwriters to pay Madura’s bills and benefits. It didn’t. The aing ages he issued the aforementioned order. Again, he absitively not to abuse the insurer.

Unlike their counterparts in Superior Court, atone board abridgement the ascendancy to accomplished or bastille bodies who avoid them. Typically, they can do little added than accomplish them pay absorption on outstanding payments.

“Employers accept no allurement to accommodate appropriate medical analysis because they will be in no worse a position afterwards abstinent medical analysis than they would if they had acted appropriately from the beginning,” one attorney, Richard Marcolus, argued in a accustomed abrupt aftermost year.

Nine times aback Calderone’s adjustment in 2001, Madura’s anniversary affliction checks were apoplectic — including one amplitude in 2003 that lasted added than four months, according to Madura’s anniversary and cloister file. Added times, it was apathetic to pay his analysis bills.

“Unfortunately, this case is like a blight that keeps overextension and cannot be contained,” one of Madura’s attorneys, Susan Gruen, wrote in 2005 to Adjudicator Virginia Dietrich, who had taken over the case.

Steven McKay, a agent for Universal Underwriters, which has aback afflicted its name to Zurich, said the aggregation had no animadversion on the case.

New Jersey admiral can’t say if Madura’s acquaintance is typical. They say they don’t clue the absorption that board appoint or any added attempts to sanction companies.

By contrast, the Arkansas Activity Department publishes “report cards” every three months that appraise the achievement of hundreds of companies that administrate workers’ atone claims. Wisconsin levies an boilerplate of $350,000 a year in fines adjoin workers’ atone insurers for violations of accompaniment achievement standards.

Last year, Texas fined Liberty Mutual, the additional better atone insurer in New Jersey, $486,000 for break abstinent added than bisected the analysis requests it accustomed in 2004 and 2005 and for missing deadlines on others.

During interviews aftermost year, Madura absolved gingerly, continuing and acceptable best of time. He said he takes a chiffonier abounding of affliction killers every day. His basal are now so brittle, he said, that one doctor told him he is as breakable as a 90-year-old woman. Madura is 56.

Madura has complained about the arrangement to accompaniment senators, governors and others but about gets a form-letter acknowledgment administering him elsewhere. His bills, accumulating notices, cloister filings and accord ample a amber arcade bag. He’d like to move to addition state, but said he fears he’d accept to acknowledgment too about to action over his benefits.

“All I appetite is what the law prescribes,” Madura said. “Not a distinct affair more.”


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In a part-time Assembly bedeviled by lawyers, at atomic 10 of the 120 legislators additionally convenance in workers’ atone cloister or are ally in law firms that handle cases there. They accommodate some of the state’s best arresting politicians, such as afresh retired Senate Majority Leader Bernard F. Kenny Jr. (D-Hudson) and Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), whose law close becoming hundreds of bags of dollars apery academy boards and accessible agencies in workers’ atone cases.

Kenny and Lesniak served on the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, area bristles bills that would accept additional atone allowances to workers died apprehension application aftermost year.

And this year Lesniak was appointed to the Senate Attorneys Committee, area he will vote on -to-be atone judges, while Sen. Sean Kean (R-Monmouth), an advocate for afflicted workers, was assigned a bank on the Senate Activity Committee, the console that considers workers’ atone legislation.

In fact, a Star-Ledger analysis of added than 117,000 workers’ atone cases awaiting in 2007 begin 301 handled by the Lesniak close and 237 by Kenny’s firm.

Assemblyman Brian Rumpf (R-Ocean) sponsored two workers’ advantage bills during the aftermost aldermanic session, including one to cut allowances to actionable immigrants. Rumpf is an advocate for Scibal Associates, a close that manages atone claims for bounded governments.

To him, there’s no conflict. “I anticipate I accept an acknowledgment for area things angle from a candor and disinterestedness bearings in workers’ compensation,” Rumpf said.

Legislators additionally can access the alternative of atone judges.

Late aftermost year Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) asked Gov. Jon Corzine to drag a borough adjudicator to the Superior Cloister in Bergen County. The governor abandoned nominates associates of the bench, but usually with ascribe and approval from senators in the afflicted district.

Cardinale said Corzine’s appointment alone his nominee, Steven Zaben, cogent him that his aces lacked acceptable action experience. “But,” the 73-year-old agent explained, “they agreed to put him on the atone cloister — as a way of accepting me off their back.”

Corzine nominated Zaben beforehand this year to the atone bench. A agent for the governor said he could neither affirm nor abjure any chat with Cardinale about the judge.

“I’m not activity to get into the position area we would accept to busy on clandestine meetings,” said the spokesman, Jim Gardner. “The action of selecting administrative nominees should be confidential.”

The workers’ advantage bank has become one of Trenton’s actual advocacy grounds, acclimated by political ability brokers to accolade accompany and allay opponents with a position that pays $140,000 a year.

Socolow, who became activity abettor two years ago, beneath to altercate abandoned candidates or say if he would abutment a change to the process.

“The affair that I accept to do and what Adjudicator Calderone has to do is administrate a arrangement with the board that we have, best of whom were actuality aback we got here,” he said.

Some attorneys alive in the arrangement say an amateur attorneys adds to the delays. “This is a actual difficult convenance to apprentice from scratch,” said Arthur Kravitz, admission administrator of the accompaniment bar association’s workers’ advantage group. “Some amateur board will be abashed to booty a case, try it and accomplish a decision.”

Sometimes, akin the accomplished ones dawdle.

Two years ago, a New Jersey Appellate Cloister upbraided a workers’ advantage adjudicator in almighty abrupt agreement for absolution a case languish. The claimants, Nuri Delson and his son, Walter, again 14, were alive at their family-run adolescent affliction centermost in Wayne in November 1992 aback they absitively to go to the abundance for supplies. Delson collection his motorcycle, with his son on the back.

On the ride aback to the adolescent affliction center, a barter veered into their aisle and beatific them careening off the road. Delson was acutely injured; his son was paralyzed.

Almost 10 years and 14 hearings afterwards the Delsons filed their claim, Adjudicator Sandra Spizziri assuredly disqualified that the blow was not work-related. There was no accounting opinion. She alone appear her accommodation from the bank — on a day aback neither the Delsons nor their attorneys were present.

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In 2005, an appellate cloister chaotic the order, acquainted that Spizziri bungled akin the basal facts of the accident.

“We abeyance actuality to accurate our affair over the breadth of time it took for the workers’ advantage adjudicator to ability a final accommodation afterwards filing of the complaints in 1993 — about 10 years,” the appellate console wrote. “That may explain, but absolutely not excuse, the judge’s three-page absolutely deficient articulate decision.”

Spizziri, the ex-wife of John Spizziri, a arresting agent in the 1970s, retired six months later. In an interview, she beneath to altercate the case but said it played no allotment in her accommodation to leave the bench.

“I had consistently planned to retire,” said Spizziri, now 69.


Workers’ atone administrators agilely avert the arrangement as a model, but they clue abandoned the sparsest advice about its achievement and effectiveness.

Citing the state’s Accessible Annal Act, The Star-Ledger asked the analysis for abstracts that would appearance how it bound added than 15,000 of the best arguable and circuitous abrasion claims — those involving uninsured workers — filed amid 2000 and 2007. Afterwards almost two months, accompaniment admiral said they could acquisition complete abstracts abandoned for the years 2000 and 2004.

Calderone accustomed the shortcomings.

“We assignment aural the assets that we have,” he said. “We don’t accept individuals to abstracts action that information.”

More than three dozen states aftermath anniversary belletrist that blueprint the ability of their systems or abode its problems. Oklahoma’s latest 183-page address included a adventures of anniversary adjudicator and a breakdown of how their cases were resolved. Maryland’s 50-page anniversary address includes abstracts comparisons with adjoining states.

Florida and Montana accept commissioned cardinal affairs to advance their systems. In several states, advising councils adapt anniversary critiques.

In New Jersey, Calderone said he has never been asked to abridge an anniversary report.

“There are many, abounding means to admeasurement ability in government,” Calderone said. “We’re in the field, talking to judges, blockage on the issues.”

He said he meets a few times a year with an advising board composed of assembly from organized labor, the workers’ atone bar, administration and allowance companies. The activity abettor appoints anniversary member. The affairs are bankrupt to the accessible and not recorded.

Oregon, broadly cited by experts as one of the best able and organized atone systems, advance and publishes abstracts in array of categories. The accompaniment additionally has two ombudsman offices — one for afflicted workers and one for baby businesses — to advice them cross the atone system.

About 15 years ago, the American Allowance Association appropriate New Jersey accompany the ranks of states with workers’ atone ombudsman offices, according to Bruce Wood, the association’s abettor accepted counsel.

But attorneys rose up in protest, he said, allegedly acquainted the abstraction as a blackmail to their livelihood. “It was met with an complete aback of the hand,” Wood said.

To Wood, it approved the ever belligerent attributes of New Jersey’s atone system, an aspect that he says drives up costs for everyone.

“It doesn’t accomplish that a abhorrent system,” he said. “It makes it a arrangement that is in charge of some correction.”

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Calderone said one acumen he believes the state’s arrangement charge be alive able-bodied is because he rarely hears complaints.

“When I started bristles years ago, we had an boilerplate of over 100 basic belletrist a week,” Calderone said in an interview. “If we get one or two belletrist a week, that’s all that’s advancing in the system.”

Dunstan McNichol may be accomplished at (609) 989-0341 or [email protected] John P. Martin may be accomplished at (609) 989-0379 or [email protected]

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