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When Can You Sue Your Employer for Injuries Sustained on the Job?

Rudolph Laidlow worked for Hariton Machinery Corp., feeding heated metal bars into a mill.  The machine came with a safety guard to prevent workers’ hands from being caught and shredded. The employer removed the guard whenever the machine was being used and put it on only when federal safety inspectors were on the premises.  The employer ignored several reports of close calls where employees’ gloves got caught in the machine. Management rebuffed repeated requests by Laidlow to put on the safety guard. It was inevitable that someone would get injured, and indeed, Laidlow’s glove got caught and the machine ripped the skin off of his hand.

Does workers’ compensation law ever allow an employee like Laidlow to sue an employer?

In general, workers injured on the job are barred from suing their employers in civil court.  The one major exception is for intentional acts.  If an employer intentionally injures an employee, then the employee may get workers’ compensation benefits and still sue the employer.

So what does this mean for workers like Laidlow?

Laidlow sued. His employer argued that he could not sue because he was limited to his workers’ compensation benefits.  The NJ Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that the employer’s actions might have been intentional.  Intentional, the Court ruled, is not just when an employer wants to hurt an employee, but also when it is clear to the employer that, eventually, an avoidable danger will hurt an employee. The Court imposed standards that a worker must satisfy before the intentional injury claim against the employer would be permitted by the state courts in addition to his workers compensation claim.

Of course, each case is fact-specific.  If you have been injured on the job, speak to one of the attorneys at Hoffman Dimuzio to see how we can help you in your workers’ comp claim, and if appropriate, to pursue additional remedies for you in state court. 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 based on workers compensation benefits obtained must be approved by the workers’ compensation judge.

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