Hurt at Work —Where Can I File My Workers’ Compensation Claim?

Andrew P. Gould, Esq.

One of the complicating issues in the Lehigh Valley/Easton-Phillipsburg region is that we frequently cross the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which have some very different laws.  Inevitably, the question arises where if you are hurt in the course of employment, which state does your case belong?  It is very common to live in one state and work in another.  It is likewise common to have an employer in one state but have the accident occur in the other.

There are two questions to consider: Where can I bring a workers’ compensation claim?  And if circumstances arise where I can bring a claim in either state, where should I bring a workers’ compensation claim?  This blog post deals with the first question.

It should be kept in mind that some work-related injuries are not handled in any state system. Federal employees, like postal workers, have a separate workers’ compensation system which they would be required to use regardless of where they live or work.

But for most other workers—when determining which state to bring a workers’ compensation case, each state spells out the criteria of when their laws apply.

New Jersey

New Jersey has adopted six considerations to resolve a dispute as to whether New Jersey has jurisdiction:

  1. The place where the injury occurred;
  2. The place of making the contract;
  3. The place where the employment relationship exists or is carried out;
  4. The place where the industry is localized;
  5. The place where the employee resides; and
  6. The place whose statute the parties expressly adopted by contract.

See Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, Ch. 142 §142.01 (LexisNexis Matthew Bender).

The Appellate Division confirmed the use of this formula.  See International Schools Services, Inc. v. New Jersey Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development, 408 N.J. Super. 198, 974 A. 2d 433 (App. Div. 2009).  It should be noted that New Jersey courts have held that the site of the injury and the location and place of making the contract always confers jurisdiction.  For the other considerations we have to look to various cases as to determine when New Jersey does or does not have jurisdiction.  But overall, the courts have found jurisdiction even with very loose ties to the state. There is a case where a New Jersey resident filed an online application, took a phone call at his residence, but did an in-person interview for the job in New York, received a second phone call at his residence with an offer of employment, and all the work was done in New York.  This was enough for the courts to find that New Jersey had jurisdiction.  See Williams v. Raymours Furniture Co., Inc. 449 N.J. Super 559, 159 A. 3d 903 (App. Div. 2017).

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is a little more cut and dry because it’s based on statues rather than cases.  The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act applies to all injuries occurring within Pennsylvania no matter where the contract of hire was made, renewed, or extended.  See Section 101, 77 P.S. §1.  Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act also applies to injuries outside the state if:

  1. Employment is principally localized in Pennsylvania; or
  2. The employee is working under a contract of hire made in Pennsylvania in employment not principally localized in any state; or
  3. The employee is working under a contract of hire made in Pennsylvania in employment principally localized in another state whose workers’ compensation law is not applicable to his or her employer; or
  4. The employee is working under a contract of hire made in Pennsylvania for employment outside the United States and Canada.

Scenarios Where A Claim Could Be Brought in Either State

When we look at these two standards, there are plenty of scenarios when it is possible to have a workers’ compensation claim in both states.  Indeed, there are endless scenarios where both states may have jurisdiction.  Let’s consider a few possibilities.

Example 1: You work for a Pennsylvania company, work is principally located in Pennsylvania, with a contract for hire made in Pennsylvania but the accident happened in New Jersey.

Example 2: You work for a Pennsylvania company, you were injured in Pennsylvania, but live in New Jersey and was hired while in New Jersey.

Let’s consider an example where both states would not have jurisdiction.

Example 3: You live in Pennsylvania; work for a Pennsylvania based-company but exclusively in a New Jersey branch; the accident happened in New Jersey; the contract for hire was made at the New Jersey branch.

Here, unlike New Jersey, Pennsylvania does not consider where the employee resides to be a factor.  Also the location of the employer isn’t determinative.  The contract for hire was made at the New Jersey branch, and the worker only works in a New Jersey branch.  Every rule that allows for Pennsylvania to have jurisdiction for an out-of-state accident requires the contract for hire to be made in Pennsylvania or that employment is principally localized in Pennsylvania.  So in Example 3 only New Jersey would have jurisdiction.

But there is another complicating factor.  Does the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance policy cover claims in that state?

Consider Example 1 from above.  It may be that a Pennsylvania employer has a policy that does not cover New Jersey workers’ compensation claims considering the work is principally located in Pennsylvania. On a particular instance, an employee is traveling through New Jersey for work purposes and gets injured.  New Jersey law absolutely allows the injured worker to pursue a claim for an injury in New Jersey workers’ compensation court. But the employers’ insurance policy won’t cover a New Jersey claim, which complicates matters.

Practically, a worker is not going to know the terms and limits of their employer’s insurance policy until a claim is filed and the employer alleges that there is no coverage. And even then, if the language of the policy is ambiguous, then it’s likely going to be found in favor of coverage of the employee.  But in the above example, if there is no coverage in New Jersey, the most practical solution may be to file in Pennsylvania.

Cross border issues regarding work-related injuries can be confusing, so please do not hesitate to contact the workers’ compensation attorneys at Bruno Law if you wish to discuss your claim.  If you would like to schedule an appointment with the workers’ compensation attorneys at Bruno Law, call us at 610-258-4003 or fill out the Contact form.