Work Injuries and Deliberate Intentions: What You Need to Know
It’s a difficult concept. One would hope that there is no correlation between work injuries and deliberate intentions. Nonetheless, the reality is that some on-the-job accidents occur because of an employer’s “intentional wrongs.” In fact, some may be characterized as downright intentional deception.
For the most part, New Jersey employees who are hurt while working have an exclusive remedy. NJSA 34:15-8 provides the legal language that says you can only pursue a workers’ compensation claim against your employer. This section of the law limits your legal rights if a co-employee injured you as well. However, there is an exception.
- If evidence can be established that your employer or a co-worker intentionally wronged you, you may be able to file a separate lawsuit seeking monetary damages.
Consider the following. You are a delivery person out on a route with another company representative. As your co-worker drives the van, he becomes distracted. He inadvertently runs through a stop sign and collides with another vehicle. Truth be told, you are seriously injured in the accident. You assume that you will need to file a lawsuit against your co-employee. You are shocked to learn that you are only entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. (Although, that’s not to say you can’t pursue legal action against the other motor vehicle operator if they were at all liable for the accident.)
- Take that same set of circumstances and change it a bit. You and the other delivery person were arguing just before the accident. He accused you of having an affair with his wife. Just before he speeds through the stop sign, he shouts of his intent to cause your death.
- As you can see, both stories invoke different circumstances. While the latter may also involve criminal charges, an experienced personal injury attorney may seek to file a civil lawsuit citing an intentional wrong.
Actual Cases Involving Work Injuries and Deliberate Intentions
New Jersey has considered a number of cases involving work injuries where employees were able to pursue claims outside of workers’ compensation court. For example, Mull v. Zeta Consumer Products, et al. was decided in 2003.
At the time of the accident, Lisa Mull was a line operator at Zeta Consumer Products, a plastic bag manufacturer. Her duties entailed working on a machine that would frequently jam. Mull would need to clear the jam and lifted a fiberglass guard to do so. On one of the occasions she performed this action, the machine started up and pulled Mull’s hand into it. As a result, her left pinky and ring fingers were amputated.
When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) visited the worksite, they cited Zeta for several items. As it turns out, the company had received a violation in the past that seemed to correlate to Mull’s accident. OSHA instructed Zeta to provide its employees with lockout/tag-out procedures for power termination.
In filing a civil lawsuit against Zeta, Mull’s attorneys provided the court with an expert report. The opinion not only cited the company’s failure to comply with OSHA’s directions. According to the expert witness, Zeta “purportedly motivated by a desire to enhance productivity, had altered the original design of the winder.”
The court found that “..evidence suggests that an employer disabled or knowingly tolerated the disabling of a safety device, it creates a rebuttable presumption that the employer knew harm to an employee was substantially certain to result. Under that rule, the employer would have the burden of coming forward at trial with evidence tending to disprove that known substantial certainty of harm. In the absence of such evidence, if the jury found that an employer disabled or knowingly tolerated the disabling of a safety device, it would have to conclude that a known substantial certainty of harm existed.”
Issues with intentional wrongs can occur in many types of employment, including machine shops and construction sites. The Law Offices of Anthony Carbone has three decades of experience dealing with workers’ compensation and other types of personal injury cases. Contact our office to see how we can help you.
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