The workers compensation law provides a tradeoff, in which the employee gives up the ability to sue the employer for an unlimited amount of damages in exchange for receiving fixed monetary awards for workplace injuries without costly and time consuming litigation. However, the courts of the State of New Jersey also recognize an intentional tort exception to the workers compensation law, in which the employee may be entitled to file a lawsuit and obtain a jury award if he can show that the employer committed some intentional act which injured the employee. A classic example is where the employer removes a manufacturer-supplied guard from a table saw, in order to expedite workflow, and an employee suffers a hand injury on the saw. Under those facts, the courts have held that the employer’s intentional act of removing the guard entitles the employee to maintain a suit against the employer for money damages.
In a recent unpublished decision, the New Jersey Appellate Division considered the claim of the manager of a group home for adults with developmental disabilities for assault and sexual harassment by a resident. The manager knew that the residents could exhibit violent behavior, but she had received training in self-defense techniques and taught how to defuse potentially violent situations. The plaintiff did receive workers compensation benefits but her claim for money damages, based upon the group home’s knowing placement of a violent resident in the group home and failing to remove him, was denied.
It is critical in cases involving workplace injuries that you consult an experienced personal injury attorney to determine whether you have a claim for intentional tort, being mindful that this exception has been narrowly applied by our courts.