New Jersey Court Allows Injured Worker To Sue Employer

New Jersey construction worker Kenneth Van Dunk can sue his employer for injuries he received on the job, recently ruled a New Jersey Appeals Court. The court reasoned that the accident, which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found was the result of a “willful violation” of federal safety rules, gave the construction worker the right to seek damages beyond workers’ compensation.

How Workers’ Comp Works

Workers’ compensation is a system that allows workers straightforward access to compensation when they are injured on the job. Injured workers do not have to show whose fault the injury was in order to collect. Workers’ comp can pay for medical bills and partial lost wages.

In exchange for this right, workers are rarely allowed to directly sue their employers for injuries they suffer while they are working.

Exceptions to the Rule

In unusual circumstances, workers are allowed to sue their employers. Although the specifics vary by state, the general rule is that mere negligence on the part of the employer entitles the worker only to work comp.

If the employer went far beyond negligence, however, deliberately putting employees at risk, then the injured worker may be able to file a lawsuit against the employer. Although filing a lawsuit requires more time, effort and investment than solely obtaining workers’ comp benefits, the monetary award may be greater. Of course, the outcome of every case depends on the facts and the law specific to the situation.

New Jersey vs. New York

New Jersey, where Van Dunk’s injury occurred, and New York have different standards for when an injured employee is allowed to sue the employer. The New Jersey Appeals Court ruled that Van Dunk can sue because his employer committed an “intentional wrong” when it failed to use safety measures that would have prevented the construction worker’s injury.

This does not necessarily mean that the employer intended for Van Dunk to be hurt – it means that the employer must have known that it should be using safety measures, but it chose not to.

New York’s standard for when an injured employee can sue an employer is more difficult to meet. The employer must have committed gross negligence: “an intentional or deliberate act … intended to cause harm to an employee.”

In New York, therefore, Van Dunk would have to show that his employer not only knew it should be using the safety measures that it was ignoring; he would also have to show that the employer intended for its actions to hurt Van Dunk or knew that its actions would hurt him.

Contact an Attorney

If you have been injured on the job, seek medical attention right away. If your New York employer committed an intentional or deliberate act intended to cause harm, contact a workers’ compensation lawyer who has proven personal injury experience.