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New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Co. v. Blau

Decided: June 1, 1984.

NEW JERSEY MANUFACTURERS INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
LUCILLE CRANE BLAU, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County.

Bischoff, Petrella and Brody. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Bischoff, P.J.A.D.

Bischoff

[194 NJSuper Page 28] The chief issues raised by this appeal are whether a workers' compensation insurance carrier may maintain a suit to recover benefits paid after a recipient is no longer entitled to benefits

and, if so, should such an action be instituted in the Superior Court or in the Division of Workers' Compensation.

The basic facts are undisputed. Ludwig Crane, deceased husband of petitioner, had a history of heart trouble. He made claim for workers' compensation benefits during his lifetime and was awarded 30% of partial total disability on July 3, 1962 and an additional 20% of partial total disability on April 3, 1975. On July 27, 1976 Mr. Crane suffered another heart attack, while at work, from which he died. His widow, Lucille Crane, filed a dependency claim petition on September 17, 1976. When her claim was reached for trial the petition was converted into an application for modification of the earlier judgments which awarded her husband partial total disability benefits. This application was settled, the settlement approved and an order entered April 11, 1978 providing that the deceased petitioner was 100% totally disabled as a result of multiple myocardial infarcts and the petitioner's widow was awarded 450 weeks at $108. per week for a total payment of $48,600. A reduction of $10,175 was provided because of the previous payments totalling that amount made to the deceased during his lifetime by the carrier. The order approving the settlement specifically provided that "Petitioner's death on 9/27/76 is not related to his employment in the respondent."

The widow received monthly payments of $432. On June 10, 1979 she remarried. She did not inform the insurance carrier of this fact and continued to sign and cash the checks she continued to receive in her former married name. On or about May 4, 1981 the insurance carrier inquired of petitioner as to whether she had remarried. She admitted she had and the carrier stopped making payments of the funds awarded by the order approving the settlement, contending her marriage caused a forfeiture of any funds remaining due under the settlement.

In February 1982 petitioner filed a motion in the Division of Workers' Compensation to compel the insurer to resume payments

of monthly benefits pursuant to the settlement of April 1978. This motion is still pending in the Division.

In April or May of 1982 the insurance carrier filed suit in the New Jersey Superior Court, Law Division seeking recovery from the widow of payments of compensation benefits wrongfully received. The carrier based its action on the doctrine of unjust enrichment. Petitioner-defendant filed a counterclaim in the Law Division seeking an order compelling the insurance carrier to resume payment of benefits to her notwithstanding the fact of her remarriage.

Petitioner-defendant moved for a summary judgment dismissing the complaint alleging 1) jurisdiction over alleged overpayments was exclusively in the Division of Workers' Compensation; 2) the alleged overpayments in this case were not recoverable as a matter of law; 3) the insurer's action was forum shopping and placed petitioner-defendant in a position of violating the entire controversy doctrine.

That motion was denied. The carrier's subsequent motion to dismiss petitioner-defendant's counterclaim on the ground the exclusive jurisdiction to hear it was in the Division was granted.

With leave granted, petitioner-defendant appeals from the denial of her motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint and from ...


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