Workers’ Compensation Bar Does Not Prevent Third-Party Claims

While it is true that injured workers in New Jersey have limited options to pursue claims against their employer, there may be the opportunity to pursue claims against a third-party who had a duty towards the worker but failed to carry out that duty.

In a recent New Jersey Appellate Division case, Austin v. Morris Plains Contracting, LLC, the Court allowed a jury to decide whether the third-party defendant was responsible for inadequate planning and oversight of the fall protection safety procedures on the job site of the plaintiff employee. While the employee was removing copper piping from the ceiling of a building for his employer, he was required to walk out onto an unprotected, elevated catwalk without a harness. While standing on the catwalk, the employee fell and suffered traumatic brain damage.

The Workers’ Compensation bar limited the employee’s recovery from the employer to those damages set by statute. However, the employee had the opportunity to recover from the third-party defendant responsible for providing and overseeing a safety plan for the job. The Court affirmed the jury’s finding that the third-party was 73 percent liable for the employee’s accident, which resulted in an award of approximately $5.8 million in damages.

This case serves as a reminder to injured workers, who have limited recovery options from their employer due to the Workers’ Compensation bar, that they may have the opportunity to pursue claims against third-parties who may have been negligent in carrying out their duty owed to the worker.

If you have questions about whether your claim is affected by the Workers’ Compensation bar or whether you have a claim against a third-party stemming from your workplace injury in New Jersey, contact Ward, Shindle & Hall.