It is well-known that in order for an employee to recover workers’ compensation benefits, the employee’s injury must be work-related. It may not be entirely clear, though, which party bears the burden of proving whether or not an employee sustained an injury at work. In a recent New Jersey workers’ compensation case, the court clarified which party bears the burden of proving the nature of an employee’s injury. If you sustained a work-related injury, you might be owed workers’ compensation benefits, and you should consult a skillful New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible.

The Plaintiff’s Injury

It is reported that the plaintiff suffered an injury to her shoulder while she was undergoing physical therapy for an injury to her right wrist that she sustained at work. As such, she filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, alleging that she either tore her rotator cuff or aggravated an existing tear, and that the injury was work-related. The defendant employer denied that the plaintiff’s shoulder injury was work-related. As such, the plaintiff filed a motion to recover benefits. The judge of compensation denied the plaintiff’s motion, finding that she had not sustained her burden of proving her injury was work-related and that her claim was compensable. The plaintiff appealed the denial of her motion, arguing that the judge improperly shifted the burden of proof from the defendant to the plaintiff.

The Burden of Proving the Nature of an Employee’s Injury

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that when a defendant claims an accident was caused by an employee’s physical condition, the employee bears the burden of establishing causation and that the defendant failed to show that the plaintiff’s injury was idiopathic. The appellate court disagreed, stating that while it is a fundamental truth that the language of the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act is to be liberally construed in favor of a claimant, a claimant nonetheless bears the burden of proving that an accident caused a compensable injury.

In other words, an injury is compensable if it arose out of and in the course of an employee’s performance of his or her job duties. Thus, a plaintiff must show that his or her work at least contributed to the cause of their injuries, and the risk of the occurrence of the injury was reasonably related to the their employment. Risks fall under three categories: distinctly associated with employment, neutral, and idiopathic, which means they arise out of the plaintiff’s personal activities. While the employer bears the burden of proving an idiopathic risk, such as the physical condition of the plaintiff caused the plaintiff’s injury, the burden did not shift in the subject case because the employer did not argue that an idiopathic risk caused the plaintiff’s harm. Rather, the employer argued that the plaintiff’s injury did not occur at work. As such, the lower court ruling was affirmed.

Speak to a Trusted New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Attorney

It is clear that in New Jersey, an employee seeking workers’ compensation benefits for an injury must show that the injury is work-related. If you were hurt at work, the trusted New Jersey workers’ compensation attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can help you gather the evidence needed to show that your injury was work-related to aid you in the pursuit of any benefits you may be owed. You can contact us at 800-999-0897 or through our form online to set up a meeting.