Is It Possible to File a Personal Injury Claim Against Your Employer When You’re Hurt At Work?

When an employee is injured on the job, it is commonly understood that workers’ compensation will be there for them, providing for their medical expenses and lost wages. But the safety net that workers’ compensation was supposed to provide has been chipped away over the years, with benefits deteriorating and more and more employers and their insurers’ denying claims and challenging their responsibility to provide benefits. This has left many employees with little recourse: with workers’ compensation the only remedy that is available under New Jersey law, they are frequently left with nowhere to turn and frustrated, particularly in situations where they believe that their injury was a result of an unsafe workplace that violates workplace safety rules.

It is in these instances where there is a possibility that an injured worker can file a negligence claim against their employer. In recent years, there has been a growing movement to push back against the exclusive remedy and to take advantage of a clause that allows workers who can prove that their injuries were “intentionally caused” to file lawsuits beyond workers’ compensation.  The bar for proving intent is high, and demands that the injured employee demonstrate that their employer’s actions leading to their injury was either intentional, deliberate, or certain to result in injury or death, with different states adopting  different standards regarding when an intentional tort can be filed.

New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyers

In the state of New Jersey, the Supreme Court has decided a few cases in favor of injured workers, describing a two-pronged test addressing both the context of the injury and the conduct of the employer that must be examined to determine intention.  They handed down a similar decision in 2003 in a case regarding whether a previous citation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was enough to support an intentional tort. After their exploration, the court determined that the employer’s failure to correct the hazards that they had previously been cited for — and which caused the death of an employee – was a factor in their determination, though not enough to settle the matter on its own merit.

A more recent case confirmed their adherence to their determination that no single fact can determine intention, and that the court needs to look at all of the circumstances involved in order to make a decision. In that case, an employee was asked to enter a trench that was deeper then allowed under OSHA safety regulations. The employer confirmed that the injured worker’s supervisor was aware of both the risks and the violation of OSHA rules, but ordered him into the trench anyway. The worker was seriously injured, and an OSHA report concluded the employer had willfully violated their mandate. The injured worker then filed a claim against their employer alleging that the injuries were intentionally caused, but this claim was dismissed based on the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy doctrine: this decision was reversed by the New Jersey Appellate Division, but then their decision was reversed by the state Supreme Court. The court indicated that the Appellate Division had overvalued the finding of the OSHA violation as well as the probability of injury occurring.

Personal Injury Lawer in South Jersey

Though this decision might seem disheartening, it actually provides an important clarification for what the burden of proof is in order to prove that an employer’s actions can be deemed intentional. In the state of New Jersey, the courts expect an employee seeking the ability to file this type of claim to be able to show that their employer was acting fraudulently and/or that there was a certainty that the work would lead to injury or death.

If you’ve been injured in the workplace, you need to be represented by an attorney who has a thorough understanding of all of the remedies that are available to you. This is the best way to ensure that you get the maximum compensation that you need and deserve, whether by filing a workers’ compensation claim, a third-party claim against another party whose negligence may have contributed to your injury, or even exploring whether it is possible to bypass the exclusive remedy doctrine. At Shebell and Shebell, we have that level of knowledge and experience, and are here to provide you with the quality representation that you need.