In an ideal workers’ compensation system, all parties would keep to the letter of the law. However, courts’ rules are oftentimes relaxed within our system and often not followed. In handling any New Jersey workers’ compensation claim petition, employers, employers’ attorneys and claims professionals must be diligent in making sure that employers’ fundamental rights are not violated by this relaxed approach. All parties, petitioners, and respondents have the right to due process. This right includes procedural due process and substantive due process. For instance, one has the right to present witnesses, to confront and cross-examine witnesses, and the right to a trial.
In a system with frequent and informal chamber court conferences held off the record, parties tend to forget that if an agreement cannot be reached among the parties, everyone has the right to litigate their matter. Litigation could result in an outcome that is better, worse, or the same as the proposed agreement. If an agreement cannot be reached, the record must be preserved since it is what the appellate courts will review to determine if the lower court’s decision should be affirmed or reserved.
The recent cases (i.e., Haggerty v. Crothall, No. A-447817T4) coming down from the New Jersey Appellate Division on due process, preserving the record, and protecting parties’ fundamental rights within a legal system of relaxed enforcement of the rules of evidence are rather interesting. Employers are demanding their rights to due process and the appellate division is backing them up. Attorneys who practice workers’ compensation law in the state of New Jersey often come across a fine line of diplomacy versus aggressive representation in handling their clients’ matters. One thing is for sure — every attorney has the legal obligation to advocate and ensure that their clients’ rights are protected to the fullest extent of the law. Thankfully, the appellate division seems to be on our side on this issue.