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Illinois Construction Site Accident Yields Unprecedented Award

Ronald Bayer fell off an iron beam while working on the construction site of an Illinois warehouse in 2007 and landed head first on the concrete 20 feet below.   He sustained severe injuries: paralysis from the chest down and unbearable pain in his neck.  He requires 24/7 medical attention and significant treatment for his pain. The workers’ compensation carrier for his employer covered about $5 million in his medical expenses, and paid for his handicapped-accessible home as well as for his caregivers.

Nevertheless, Bayer sued his employer, Panduit Corp., in Illinois state court, alleging that there were studs sticking out of the iron beams that he tripped over which caused his fall, and that his employer did not provide safety harnesses to protect workers from falls.  The jury agreed, granting Bayer the largest-ever jury $64 million award for a quadriplegic injury.

Bayer was able to sue his employer, even though he was covered by workers’ compensation.  Would such a thing be possible in New Jersey?

New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation law (in section 34:15-8) specifically excludes any remedies to an employee except workers’ compensation payments.  One of the few exceptions to this rule involves the “intentional acts exception”. An injured employee may receive workers’ comp payments and still sue for the intentional wrong acts of the employer.

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently weighed in on this topic in the case of Stancil v ACE USA.  The Court ruled that even if a workers’ compensation insurer intentionally fails to pay its obligations to the employee, the injured employee cannot go to state court; he or she is limited to contempt remedies of the workers’ compensation court. The Supreme Court clearly stated that the New Jersey statutes were designed to “ensure that employees will be compensated by eliminating, except in precisely defined circumstances, their right to pursue litigation in the Superior Court.”

Ronald Bayer and others who are tragically similarly situated would not get their day in state court in New Jersey.  However, a skilled and experienced workers’ compensation law firm can help protect their rights and maximize their benefits. If you need advice regarding your right to receive workers’ comp benefits or other claims arising from a work-related accident or injurious exposure, contact us as soon as possible so we may help you. We will explain your rights and your options and represent your interests during the process. There is no charge for consultation. No attorney’s fee is paid for our representing you unless we obtain benefits for you. Also, any attorney’s fee awarded for obtaining workers compensation benefits must be approved by the workers’ compensation judge.

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