|July 1, 2014|
Previously published on July 1, 2014
Patel v. Showboat Casino, Docket No. A-3739-12T3, (App. Div., decided 5/22/14)
On July 13, 2007, the petitioner was injured when he slipped and fell on the respondent’s premises. Prior to filing a claim with the Division of Workers’ Compensation, the petitioner’s injury was deemed compensable by the respondent’s workers’ compensation carrier, and all reasonable and necessary medical treatment was authorized. The petitioner continued to treat until May of 2008, at which time he chose to abandon his claim and discontinue treatment for unspecified reasons. The respondent promptly filed a motion to dismiss for lack of prosecution, which was granted in June of 2008.
In November 2008, petitioner’s counsel filed a motion to reinstate the petitioner’s claim, which the respondent did not contest. Approximately one month later, petitioner’s counsel filed a motion for medical and/or temporary benefits. The Judge of Compensation granted this motion in January of 2009, with counsel fees to abide final resolution of the claim. In March 2013, the matter was resolved by way of settlement, at which time the Judge awarded a counsel fee of $5,000 on the petitioner’s motion for medical and/or temporary benefits. The petitioner appealed the fee award as inadequate in light of his receipt of medical benefits in excess of $250,000 following reinstatement of his claim.
In affirming, the Appellate Division relied on the Judge’s comprehensive opinion, detailing her findings and setting forth the reasons for her fee award. As the Judge noted:
[T]he only matter contested by [Respondent] was the necessity of petitioner’s Motion for Medical and/or Temporary Disability Benefits. All of [Respondent’s] efforts in arranging for the re-authorization of petitioner’s treatment had taken place as a result of Appellant’s Motion to Reinstate the Petitioner’s claim, and by the time the Motion for Medical and/or Temporary Benefits was filed, the Petitioner’s treatment had already been authorized.
As the petitioner’s medical benefits resulted not from his motion for medical and/or temporary disability, but, rather, from the uncontested reinstatement of his claim, the Judge reasoned that petitioner’s counsel was not entitled to a fee based on the costs of the petitioner’s medical treatment. Rather, only a modest counsel fee was warranted based on petitioner’s counsel’s efforts in representing the petitioner as to his overall claim, including the services necessary to achieve its reinstatement.