It is well-established that employees that suffer work-related injuries can seek workers’ compensation benefits from their employer’s insurers, while people who are not employees are generally precluded from such coverage. In some instances, though, it is not clear whether a party is considered an employee and is owed benefits or is a worker that must pursue damages for a workplace injury via civil litigation. Recently, a New Jersey court discussed the existence of a special employee-employer relationship in an opinion issued in a case in which the defendant argued the plaintiff’s lawsuit was barred by the exclusivity provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act). If you were injured while working, it is advisable to meet with a seasoned New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney to discuss your potential claims.

The Employee’s Injury

It is alleged that the plaintiff worked in a warehouse owned by the defendant. While working, the plaintiff suffered an injury in a forklift accident. He then filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging that the defendant negligently directed him to ride as a passenger on the forklift, which violated OSHA regulations. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that it had a special employer-employee relationship with the plaintiff, and therefore the plaintiff’s exclusive remedy was a workers’ compensation claim. The court agreed, dismissing the plaintiff’s claim, and the plaintiff appealed.

Special Employee-Employer Relationships in the Context of Workers’ Compensation

New Jersey courts conduct a five-part test to determine whether a worker is a special employee of an employer for purposes of the Act. Specifically, the court will examine whether: the employer entered into an express or implied contract of hire with the employee; the work done by the employee constitutes the essential work of the employer; the employer has the right to control the details of the employee’s work; the employer pays the employee’s wages; and, the employer has the right to terminate or hire the employee.

In the subject case, the key disputed issue was whether the employee entered into a contract with the employer regarding his employment. The court disagreed with the plaintiff’s assertion that no contract existed, finding that an implied consensual relationship existed between him and the defendant.

Specifically, he turned down offers to work in other locations from the leasing agency that got him the job at the defendant’s warehouse,  accepted the continued offers to work at the defendant’s warehouse, and reported to the warehouse each day. He also took direction from a supervisor at the warehouse. Thus, the court found that the contractual prong of the test was met. The court noted that each other prong was met as well. As such, the court affirmed the lower court ruling.

Speak with a Trusted New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Attorney

Employees who are injured at work are typically owed benefits from their employers.  If you suffered an injury at work, you may be owed workers’ compensation benefits and should talk to a New Jersey workplace injury lawyer as soon as possible. The trusted workers’ compensation attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall could help you determine what benefits you may be owed and fight to help you seek a just outcome. You can reach us via our online form or at 800-999-0897 to schedule a conference.