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New Jersey Court Discusses Exception to Workers' Compensation Exclusivity


Generally, New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation Law (the Law) provides the sole remedy for an employee who is injured at work. However, there are some exceptions that allow an employee to pursue claims against an employer in a civil lawsuit in addition to recovering workers’ compensation benefits, such as when an employer engages in an intentional act that leads to the employee’s harm. The intentional act exception to the exclusivity provision of the Law was discussed in a recent New Jersey case in which an employee filed a civil lawsuit against his employer after he suffered an amputation of his left arm due to a work injury. If you suffered a work-related injury, you should speak to a capable New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney regarding whether you may be able to recover civil damages in addition to workers’ compensation benefits.

Facts Regarding the Employee’s Injury

It is alleged that the employee worked for the employer as an electromechanical technician. The employee’s job duties included servicing, repairing, and maintaining large industrial machines. While servicing a machine in 2015, the employee suffered an injury that required him to undergo amputation below the elbow of his left arm. The employee subsequently filed a workers’ compensation claim and was awarded over one million dollars in benefits. He then filed a lawsuit against the employer in which he alleged he was owed civil damages as well because his employer violated the intentional wrong exception of the Law. The employer filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to dismiss the employee’s civil claims. The court found the employee set forth sufficient evidence in support of his claims and denied the employer’s motion.

Application of the Intentional Act Exclusion

In New Jersey, employees essentially waive their right to pursue civil claims against employers for damages caused by workplace injuries in exchange for the right to recover workers’ compensation benefits under the Law. The waiver of the right to sue is not absolute, however, and employees can sue employers for work-related injuries that are caused by intentional wrongs.

In assessing whether an employer’s behavior constitutes an intentional wrong, New Jersey courts conduct a two-part analysis. First, they must assess whether the employer knew that its actions were likely to result in the death or injury of an employee, which is referred to as the conduct prong of the test. If so, then the court must find that the circumstances under which the injury arose and the resulting injury were more than ordinary results of an industrial workplace. In addition, it must find the injury was clearly beyond the scope of what the legislature intended to immunize in enacting the Law, which is the context part of the test.

In the subject case, the court found that there were genuine factual disputes as to whether the employer engaged in acts likely to cause the employee’s harm, as well as whether the acts created a risk of harm that was beyond the scope of ordinary industrial life. Thus, the court dismissed the defendant’s motion.

Speak to a Trusted New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Attorney

Amputations and other catastrophic injuries often cause damages that workers’ compensation benefits are insufficient to remedy. In some cases, a person suffering from such injuries may be able to pursue additional claims for damages. If you suffered a devastating workplace injury, the trusted New Jersey workers’ compensation attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can assess your harm and assist you in pursuing claims for benefits, along with potential for civil damages. We can be contacted via the form online or at (934) 200-5372 to set up a meeting.