Summary Judgment Upheld on Appeal in Case Questioning Application of the Workers Compensation Act
As discussed in Business Insurance, Riker Danzig’s Insurance and Reinsurance Group obtained a significant victory in a published decision by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey on August 7, 2020, where the Court affirmed a lower court ruling in favor of client Minda Supply Company.
Plaintiff Carlton Hocutt had sued Minda for injuries he sustained while riding on the back of a forklift, when the driver accidentally crashed the forklift into an i-beam. OSHA issued Minda a citation for a “serious” violation, and it was alleged during discovery that it was a common practice for employees at Minda to ride on forklifts to speed up the work at the warehouse. Because Hocutt was assigned to work at Minda through an employee leasing agency, which paid Minda’s wages, Hocutt alleged that he was not an employee of Minda and that, even if he was, he was entitled to sue Minda under the intentional wrong exception to the Workers Compensation Act.
Nationwide Insurance retained Riker to represent Minda in the lawsuit. We argued that Hocutt is a “special employee” of Minda’s and therefore any common law claim is barred by the Workers Compensation Act. We further argued that Hocutt did not plead a claim under the “intentional wrong” exception to the Act, nor could he establish such a claim given the undisputed facts. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of Minda, and Hocutt appealed.
The Appellate Division added a third judge to the panel after oral argument, and in its decision accepted all of the arguments we advanced. The Court held that Hocutt was a “special employee” of Minda’s such that he could not sue Minda under the Workers Compensation Act unless Minda engaged in an intentional wrong. The Court then reviewed the case law involving the “intentional wrong” exception to the Act, and concluded that this case fell short of that standard, and that repeated wrongful conduct (such as riding on forklifts) does not rise to the level of an intentional wrong absent evidence of prior accidents or employee complaints, or the absence of fraud, concealment, or deception of the wrongful conduct. The Appellate Division therefore affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Minda.
Lance J. Kalik, Firm Co-Managing Partner and Co-Chair of the Firm’s Insurance and Reinsurance Group, argued the case in the trial court and on appeal, with Anne Mohan, Alfonse Muglia, and Judges Ashrafi and Rothschild, providing critical assistance and guidance throughout the case.