Case Update: May 2002
New Jersey Supreme Court Scales Back Limitations On Bodily Injury Suits Against Employers, Public Entities
In two sweeping decisions the New Jersey Supreme Court has revisited and expanded the rights of plaintiffs to sue both employers and public entities for bodily injuries.
EMPLOYER LIABILITY/REMOVAL OF SAFETY GUARDS
Laidlaw v. Hariton Machinery Company involved an employer who disengaged a safety device which it re-engaged only temporarily in order to pass OSHA inspections. Following the OSHA inspections the employer once again removed the safety device in order to boost efficiency. The plaintiff, a worker responsible for manual insertion of a heated metal bar into a rolling mill, sustained a crush and degloving injury in which several of his fingers were partially amputated.
The Supreme Court noted that New Jersey’s workers compensation law generally bars civil suits against employers for bodily injury in the absence of an “intentional wrong.” Previously the case of Millison v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours set a very high threshold, essentially requiring proof of a deliberate intent to injure. In Laidlaw the Supreme Court relaxed Millison, holding unanimously that tort liability will lie when an employer knows that its actions are substantially certain to result in injury and are “more than a fact of life of industrial employment.” [MORE]