On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Middlesex County.
Pressler, Dreier and Gruccio. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pressler, P.J.A.D.
This appeal poses a novel question respecting the interrelationship of benefits afforded by the Workers' Compensation Law, N.J.S.A. 34:15-1, et seq., and the Automobile Reparation Reform Act (no fault law), N.J.S.A. 39:6A-1, et seq. More specifically, the issue before us is whether the collateral source rule of N.J.S.A. 39:6A-6 bars the recovery of survivor's essential services benefits by the widow of a decedent whose accidental death also entitles her to death benefits under the Workers' Compensation Law. We hold that it does not.
The facts are simple and entirely undisputed. Walter Skryha, a mechanic employed by Twin Boro Ford, was involved in a fatal collision while test driving a customer's automobile. His widow, plaintiff Gloria Skryha, applied for and received workers' compensation death benefits consisting of funeral expenses in the amount of $2,000 and, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 34:15-13, 50% of his weekly wages, calculated pursuant to N.J.S.A. 34:15-37, for 450 weeks.*fn1 Plaintiff also sought to recover personal injury protection (PIP) benefits from the family's automobile liability carrier, defendant Pennsylvania National Mutual Insurance Company. The carrier refused payment, relying on N.J.S.A. 39:6A-6, which relieves the no-fault carrier from its obligation to pay those PIP benefits which are collected under workers' compensation insurance. Its claim was that all those PIP benefits afforded by N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4 to which plaintiff was
entitled were collectible under workers' compensation insurance.
Plaintiff accordingly instituted this action for recovery of PIP benefits, and both parties filed motions for summary judgment. By that time plaintiff had confined her claim to benefits for essential services and funeral expenses. Defendant's motion for judgment dismissing the complaint was granted, the trial judge concluding that both of these benefits were collectible under workers' compensation insurance. We agree with respect to the funeral expenses but disagree as to essential services benefits.
"Essential services" benefits are defined by N.J.S.A. 39:6A-2(b) as "those services performed not for income which are ordinarily performed by an individual for the care and maintenance of such individual's family or family household." This is obviously, therefore, a quite distinct category from "income," which is defined as "salary, wages, tips, commissions, fees and other earnings derived from work or employment." N.J.S.A. 39:6A-2(c). The benefits afforded by N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4(a), (b), (c), (d) and (e), respectively, are for medical expenses, income continuation, essential services, death benefits, and funeral expense benefits. The death benefits provided for by N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4(d) incorporate the benefits of section (b) (income continuation) and section (c) (essential services). Thus section (d) affords the survivor compensation both for the loss of the decedent's income and for the loss of the decedent's performance of essential services. These are separate and distinct components of "death benefits," section (d) providing in full that:
In the event of the death of an income producer as a result of injuries sustained in an accident entitling such person to benefits under section 4 of this act, the maximum amount of benefits which could have been paid to the income producer, but for his death, under section 4 b. shall be paid to the surviving spouse, or in the event there is no surviving spouse, then to the surviving children, and in the event there are no surviving spouse or surviving children, then to the estate of the income producer.
In the event of the death of one performing essential services as a result of injuries sustained in an accident entitling such person to benefits under section 4 c. of this act, the maximum amount of benefits which could have been paid such person, under section 4 c., shall be paid to the person incurring the expense of providing such essential services.
The maximum benefits for the income loss, as provided for by paragraph (b), are $5,200, and the maximum benefits for essential services, as provided for by paragraph (c), are $4,380.
It was apparently the view of the trial judge that since the separate categories of income benefits and essential services benefits are together denominated as "death benefits" by the caption of section (d), all of the benefits thereby afforded are collectible under ...