Can You Sue Your Employer If You’re Hurt at Work?
New Jersey laws treat work-related accidents a bit differently than other types of injury claims. Most of the time, you’ll find you’re limited by what’s known as the exclusive remedy of the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act. So, what does that mean as far as suing your employer if you’re hurt at work?
In the first place, you don’t have to prove any type of liability to file a workers’ compensation claim. For example, you won’t need witnesses to back up your claim that another employee dropped a box on your foot and caused it to fracture.
By the same token, you could file a workers’ compensation claim if a box slipped out of your hand and resulted in the same type of injury. The idea rests on the assumption that your claim was merely an accident, and no one’s fault.
Generally speaking, filing a workers’ compensation claim should be a quicker process than a personal injury lawsuit. Your employer, through their insurance carrier, will provide you with authorized medical care, a portion of lost wages, and possibly some form of compensation for partial or total permanent disability.
Under the law, workers’ compensation insurers provide no-fault coverage as an exclusive remedy. As a result, you basically can’t sue your employer and assert their negligence caused your accident. That is – with one exception.
NJSA 34:15-8 provides insight into the only reason you can sue your employer and bring a lawsuit other than a workers’ claim: The exclusive remedy applies to your co-employees as well. In order to pursue a negligence case, you will need to prove intentional wrong was done to you.
When Intentional Harm Caused Your Work Injury
As you might imagine, showing an intentional wrong caused your work injury often provides a challenge. The problem starts with defining what counts as intentional.
The courts allowed plaintiff Brian Sims to pursue a negligence lawsuit against his employer, Express Scripts, earlier this year. The case names other defendants in addition to the employer.
Sims filed a lawsuit against his company after he suffered a below-the-elbow amputation while working on a machine. The court agreed that the company was not protected by workers’ compensation laws.
The reason? Express Scripts acted with intention in removing a safety guard and taping over it. The company also ignored several employee complaints about avoiding the use of a safety procedure because it would require the machine to shut down for up to 45 minutes.
Another court originally rejected Sims case, which will now proceed to trial. Meanwhile, the New Jersey Appellate Division recently denied a plaintiff the right to pursue a civil lawsuit on the basis of intentional wrong.
Workers’ Compensation: Exclusive Remedy
This summer, the New Jersey Appellate Division executed a written opinion in the matter of Hocutt v. Minda Supply Co, 235 A. 3d 1047 – NJ: Appellate Div. 2020. Carlton Hocutt was working in Minda’s warehouse when he was hurt.
According to the case summary, the company directed Hocutt to ride as a passenger on a forklift. Hocutt’s attorney asserted this was in violation of OSHA regulations designed to protect employees from injury.
Hocutt suffered severe harm to his leg when the forklift driver backed into an I-Beam. The injury required a trip by ambulance to the hospital, skin grafting, and a total of four surgeries.
Was the fact that the employer instructed Hocutt to get on back of the forklift indicative of intentional harm? The onus was on the plaintiff to prove that the employer’s “actions were substantially certain to result in injury or death.”
Next, it was up to Hocutt’s attorney to convince the judges that the resultant injuries were more than a fact of life of industrial employment.
The courts ultimately determined that Mindas did not have a history of prior accidents or employee complaints. It did not appear the company was guilty of fraud or deception. In their final analysis, the court viewed the matter as ”an exceptional wrong, not an intentional wrong.” Therefore. Hocutt could only pursue a workers’ compensation claim.
At the Law Offices of Beninato & Matrafajlo, Attorney Dan Matrafaljo understands the confusion you may encounter when it comes to a work-related accident. Contact Dan directly to see how he can assist you.