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Intentional Wrong Exception to the Workers’ Compensation Bar Not Available to Third-Party Tortfeasors (NJ)

October 23, 2020

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<p style="text-align: justify;">The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey recently held that the “intentional wrong” exception to the workers’ compensation bar was not available to a third-party tortfeasor and remained limited only to the injured employee as an election of remedies. Although an unpublished opinion, the court’s decision is important because it further limits the claims that can be brought against employers after workplace incidents.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Gonzalez-v-Laumar-Roofing-Company-Inc-v.-Guiliano-Environmental-LLC.pdf"><em>Gonzalez v Laumar Roofing Company Inc v. Guiliano Environmental, LLC</em>,</a> the plaintiff filed a claim for personal injuries sustained while performing roofing work. Gonzalez initially sued only the general contractor of the project, Laumar, as a defendant. No claims were brought against his employer, Guiliano as he had previously filed for and received workers’ compensation benefits from Guiliano pursuant to the Workers’ Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. 34:15-1. Laumar subsequently filed a third-party complaint against Guiliano, claiming that Gonzalez’s injuries were caused by an “intentional wrong” Guiliano committed.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">While an employee’s recovery after a workplace incident is generally limited to workers’ compensation benefits, the “intentional wrong” exception permits employees to file claims against their employers where the employer, or fellow employee, caused the injuries “intentionally” as defined by the court. An intentional wrong occurs where it is a substantial and/or virtual certainty that an injury will occur because of the employer’s conduct.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In Gonzalez, Laumar tried to avail itself the “intentional wrong” exception often used by plaintiffs to bring claims against their employers after receiving workers’ compensation benefits. The court, however, held that the “intentional wrong” exception was only available to plaintiffs—not third-party tortfeasors. The court reasoned that in codifying the “intentional wrong” exception, the legislature sought “to provide an election of remedies only for the injured employee and his or her representatives.” The court further articulated that the Workers’ Compensation Act broadly protects employers. It referred to its precedent as guidance, in which the Appellate Division has only allowed third-party tortfeasors to seek indemnification in limited circumstances.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Although limiting avenues of recovery for third parties in workplace incidents, the court noted that the decision only applies to cases where the employee does not allege an “intentional wrong” against his or her employer. The court did not offer opinion on whether a third-party tortfeasor could bring claims under the “intentional wrong” exception where the employee also alleges an “intentional wrong” on behalf of the employer.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to John Lang for his contribution to this post. If you have any questions or comments, please contact <a href="mailto:tbracken@wcmlaw.com">Thomas Bracken</a>.</p>

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