Under New Jersey workers’ compensation, severely injured and disabled claimants can receive medical benefits beyond traditional medical care. These benefits can include home renovations, a specialized vehicle, and nursing home care. The Appellate Division considered non-traditional medical benefits in Loeber v. Fair Lawn Board of Education, A-1990-13T1 (App. Div. December 5, 2014).
The claimant, Loeber, sustained a catastrophic injury that left him partially paralyzed and limited to a wheelchair. While the employer had previously agreed to certain types of modification to the first floor of Loeber’s home, he wanted other parts of the house renovated. The Judge of Compensation granted all of his requests. On appeal, the Appellate Division only partially affirmed some modifications such as: lifting the floor of the claimant’s family room to provide better access to the kitchen; modifying the kitchen to permit safe use; and reimbursement for installing a platform at the end of a wheelchair ramp leading to the rear entrance of Loeber’s house.
The Appellate Division reversed the Judge of Compensation’s decision to granting a home elevator for Loeber. He had requested the elevator to have access to the second floor of his home where his son’s bedroom was located, and to the basement where he wanted to perform woodworking. The Appellate Division found nothing in the record to demonstrate that the elevator was necessary or its costs reasonable. There was also no medical testimony to support the Judge of Compensation’s consideration of the psychological impact of the injury and need for the elevator.
If the requested renovation involves quality-of-life issues, such as an elevator, a respondent should insist on testimony from a medical expert, and also present an expert to address costs. Renovations that have to do with routine daily living and safety will not require a medical expert’s testimony.