Are you still covered by New Jersey workers’ compensation benefits? The answer in New Jersey is generally “YES.” The workers’ compensation law in New Jersey is much more lenient on these types of issues than in our neighboring state of Pennsylvania. In a recently publicized workers’ compensation case in Pennsylvania, a manager of a liquor store was robbed by a masked man who put a gun to his head and duct taped him to a chair during a robbery. The worker experienced post traumatic stress disorder as a result of this robbery, but was originally denied workers’ compensation benefits by Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court because his employer’s workers’ compensation carrier argued that robberies are a “normal working condition” that do not require the carrier to pay benefits. The carrier argued that there were 99 robberies at State Liquor stores in the Philadelphia area from 2002 to 2007, and that responding to a robbery is a normal part of a liquor store manager’s job. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ultimately overturned the lower court’s decision denying benefits and ordered the court to reconsider this case stating that the courts should pay attention to specific circumstances of each claim before applying the “normal working condition” exclusion. The result was that the court ultimately found in the worker’s favor because experiencing the kind of trauma at work that this man experienced was not “normal working conditions.”
The law in New Jersey is different from Pennsylvania in this area. We do not have this exclusion for “normal working conditions” in New Jersey for this type of situation. If a worker here sustained emotional trauma because of a robbery that took place on the job there is no question that they would be eligible for the same types of benefits that a person who sustained a physical injury would get. I have handled several New Jersey workers’ compensation cases over the years where the person has sustained emotional trauma because of a robbery or attack at work, and my experience has been that workers’ compensation carriers may delay benefits, but ultimately they do the right thing. This type of situation in New Jersey would be considered objectively stressful and peculiar to a particular workplace, and would be compensable as long as the work experience had a material impact on the worker’s psychological condition. If you feel you have been unfairly denied a workers’ compensation claim, we recommend you consult with experienced legal counsel to discuss your options.