On February 19, 2019, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued their decision
in the appeal entitled Jennifer Kocanowski v. the Township of Bridgewater,
which concerned the issue of whether a volunteer firewoman injured in the course
of her service as a volunteer firefighter for Bridgewater Township was entitled
to a benefit called temporary compensation.
is a wage replacement benefit paid to an injured worker who has sustained a work-related
accident that prevents them from doing their normal job duties for a period
while they are receiving authorized medical treatment for the injuries sustained
in the accident. Normally, under our workers’
compensation laws, in order to be entitled to a payment of temporary compensation
benefits, the injured worker must be employed in a full time or part time
position for which they are unable to work while getting the necessary medical
treatment from the injury.
At the time that Ms.
Kocanowski sustained a serious work-related injury while serving as a volunteer
for Bridgewater Township, she was not employed on either a full time or part
time basis. Therefore, the workers’ compensation
insurance carrier for Bridgewater Township refused to pay her lost time payments
while she was undergoing significant medical treatment as a result of the
injury she sustained in the course of her service as a volunteer firewoman.
After an initial trial on this issue, the Workers’ Compensation Trial
Judge denied Ms. Kochanowski’s entitlement to the wage loss benefit because she
was not employed on either a full time or part time basis.
An appeal was taken to the New Jersey Appellate Division and the
Appellate Division affirmed the Trial Court’s decision denying her temporary compensation
Ms. Kocanowski’s attorney then made an application to the New Jersey
Supreme Court asking the court to hear the issue of whether a volunteer injured
in the course of their employment would be entitled to temporary compensation benefits
even if they were not employed on a full or part time basis. agreed to hear this issue.
Jeffrey Monaghan, a partner in the Law Firm of Pellettieri Rabstein &
Altman, and a member of the Board of Governors of the New Jersey Association of
Justice, a Trial Lawyers Organization dedicated to protecting New Jersey families
by working to preserve and strengthen the laws for safer products and safer work
places participated in this appeal before the New Jersey Supreme Court in the capacity
of an amicus counsel.
Mr. Monaghan prepared a brief to the New Jersey Supreme Court and participated
in the argument held before the Supreme Court on January 3, 2019.
We are very pleased to report that the Supreme Court issued a unanimous 7-0
decision on February 19, 2019, overturning the decision of the Trial Court affirmed
by the New Jersey Appellate Court and finding that Ms. Kocanowski was in fact
entitled to temporary compensation benefits for the period of time that she was
under authorized medical treatment for the injuries she sustained while acting
as a volunteer for the Bridgewater Township volunteer fire department.
In their decision, the Supreme Court held that volunteer firefighters
have long played a very important role in the various municipalities and
townships in New Jersey. The Legislature
has long sought to encourage that role by providing certain protections and exemptions
for volunteer firefighters. The Supreme
Court held that under New Jersey Statute annotated 34:15-75, all volunteer firefighters
injured in the course of performing their duties should receive the maximum compensation
permitted under the statutes, including a payment of temporary compensation
benefits, regardless of whether the volunteer had full or part time employment
separate and apart from their service as a volunteer firefighter when their
The effects of the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in this case
should provide that in the future an individual serving their municipality or
township in the capacity of some type of volunteer service who unfortunately sustain
an injury in the course of their volunteer service will be entitled to the maximum
temporary compensation benefit rate set forth each year by the New Jersey Department
of Labor and their entitlement to that benefit should not depend on whether they
are actually engaged in full or part time employment when they met with their accident
while serving in a volunteer capacity.