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Owner of Construction Company Was Covered When He Fell and Became Paralyzed While Doing Work on His Own Home

By on December 14, 2012 in Key Defenses with 0 Comments

Daniel Cordeiro owned Danny’s Construction Company, which did masonry and concrete work.  The company employed eight or nine employees.  Cordeiro purchased an investment property in Asbury Park, New Jersey.  He listed Danny’s as the repair and renovation general contractor on the construction permits.  As general contractor, Danny’s hired plumbing and electrical subcontractors and paid the going rate for their work.

On June 17, 2010, Cordeiro drove two of his employees to a jobsite where they were supposed to perform concrete work.  Due to jobsite conditions, the work they intended to perform could not be done.  Cordeiro then decided to drive the two workers to the Asbury home where he and one of his co-workers climbed the roof to install a skylight.  While doing cutting work, Cordeiro fell through the roof onto the concrete floor below.  He suffered paraplegia from a spinal cord injury as well as multiple fractures and respiratory failure.  The parties agreed that he was totally and permanently disabled from the fall.

The insurance company, Sentinel, denied the claim and asserted that Cordeiro’s injuries resulted from his personal activities in his own home.  The company also produced an underwriter who identified herself as an employee of The Hartford.  She said that the workers’ compensation insurance policy only covered the installation of concrete slabs for residential homes.  However, there was no specific policy language confirming such a policy limitation.

 The Judge of Compensation ruled for petitioner and Sentinel appealed.  In a fairly brief opinion, the Court affirmed the award of 100% permanent total disability to petitioner.  The Court conceded that Danny’s employees generally performed concrete and masonry work, noting that some of the renovation work done on Cordeiro’s property was beyond the usual scope of work performed by Danny’s.  In this case, Danny’s employees did pour the concrete floor in the room where Cordeiro was injured.

The reasoning of the Court was that Cordeiro should be covered under workers’ compensation because, as an employee of the company, he was performing a task assigned by the employer.  The Court noted that “[t]he language of the [Act] must be liberally construed in favor of employees,” citing Cannuscio v. Claridge Hotel, 319 N.J. Super. 342, 249 (App.Div. 1999).  The holding in this case is not surprising because there are few if any published cases in New Jersey where the defense has been accepted that the activity that the company engaged far exceeded the specific terms of the application of insurance.  The Court rejected the argument that petitioner’s claim should be barred because Danny’s employees only worked more than three feet above ground level doing concrete work.

This case can be found at Cordeiro v. Danny’s Construction, A-2714-11T3 (App. Div. December 13, 2012).

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About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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