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Worker With a Severe Eye Injury Was a Special Employee and Could Not Sue His Joint Employer

By on May 2, 2014 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments

There are many instances in which an injured worker argues that he was not employed so as to be able to bring a negligence action.  The case of Hernandez v. Port Logistics, A-3558-12T3 (App. Div. 2014) illustrates this situation.

Daniel Hernandez was placing a box onto a load of pallets on August 23, 2011, when a wood splinter broke off and struck him in the eye, causing total loss of vision in the left eye.  Hernandez was employed by Staff Management, which had entered into a “Service Agreement” with Distribution Solutions, Inc. doing business as Port Logistics Inc. Hernandez sought workers’ compensation benefits from Staff Management.  Then he sued Port Logistics Inc., contending that the company was negligent in not providing him with eye protection.

Port Logistics Inc. argued that Hernandez was its employee and could not sue the company because his exclusive remedy was workers’ compensation.  In his deposition, Hernandez acknowledged that he was doing work for Port Logistics in loading and unloading trucks.  He worked under the direct supervision of Port’s managers, who provided him with his assignments and directed his work at the loading docks.  Port controlled his work hours and lunch time.  Port Managers could send Hernandez home early if work was lacking.

For his part, Hernandez argued that the Service Agreement said he was an employee only of Staff Management and that Staff Management was exclusively responsible for payroll, taxes and workers’ compensation.  The trial judge rejected this argument that only Staff Management was Hernandez’s employer.  The judge found that Hernandez was a special employee of Port Logistics.  Hernandez appealed.

The Appellate Division noted that it is quite common for an employee to have two employers.  The court said that the language of the Service Agreement alone did not control the outcome of the litigation.  Instead, the court reviewed all the factors noted above showing that Port Logistics exercised tremendous control over the day-to-day activities of Hernandez.  “In short, under the precedent cited, defendant (Port) was a special employer of plaintiff, despite any contract language to the contrary.  As a result, plaintiff’s tort claim against defendant was barred by N.J.S.A. 34:15-8.”

The lesson in this case is that sometimes an employer wants coverage under workers’ compensation because the exclusive remedy provision offers powerful protection for an employer faced with a potentially large negligence law suit.

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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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