Hall v. Fanticone

322 N.J. Super. 302, 730 A.2d 919 (App. Div. 1999)
  • Opinion Date: June 24, 1999

WORKER’S COMPENSATION; JOINT EMPLOYMENT—When a single employee is under contract to two employers, is under simultaneous control of both and performs related services for each, the employee may be a “joint employee” of each.

A tractor trailer driver was seriously injured when he slipped and fell from a metal step as he exited from an elevated office trailer. The premises on which the trailer was located were leased by one company from a landlord. The office trailer itself was leased by that company from another supplier. The driver claimed that he worked for the company that leased the property and the trailer and believed he was solely employed by that company because the “tractor” bore the name of that company. He sued a number of parties including the company that was the registered owner of the tractors leased to his alleged employer. The driver collected workers’ compensation benefits from his alleged employer. The company that actually owned the tractors was a related corporation and the operations manager for the alleged and “acknowledged” employer was also the “overseer and general manager of [the company that owned the tractors].” The manager’s wife was the sole stockholder of the tractor owner. In an earlier year, the driver had received paychecks from both companies and in later years (and more specifically at the time of the accident) his salary was paid exclusively by the company that owned the tractors. Ultimately, the jury found the company that owned the tractors to be 100% liable due to its negligence. The company then moved for a judgment in its favor arguing that the Worker’s Compensation Act barred the driver from recovery against it. The lower court judge determined that, in fact, this company was the driver’s “primary” employer and as such, the driver was barred from bringing a personal injury action against the company. On appeal, the Court found that the arrangement was a classic “joint employment” case brought about by a “business arrangement.” In doing so, it rejected the driver’s claim that he was employed exclusively by the company that leased the trailers and his argument that the work he performed was solely to advance that company’s business purposes and not that of the company that owned the tractors. A “joint employment” occurs when a single employee, under contract with two employers and under the simultaneous control of both, simultaneously performs services for both employers and when the service for each employer “is the same as, or is closely related to, that for the other.” From a Workmen’s Compensation treatise, the Court quoted an example of what is meant by “joint employment” in the leased equipment context, as follows: “[I]n the familiar situation of the leased truck and driver, or other leased heavy equipment and operator, the lessor may be accomplishing his business purpose of furnishing equipment and labor at a profit, while the lessee is at the same moment accomplishing his business purpose of transporting goods, digging ditches, or building roads, and the lessor may retain enough control to safeguard his interest in the valuable equipment, while the lessee may assume enough control to get his work done efficiently.” In the Court’s view, although the two companies at issue were separate corporations, each of which was pursuing its own business purpose, their shared business premises, equipment, and chief operating officer enabled each to exercise efficient control over the other’s sphere of interest. After analyzing the record, the Appellate Division was satisfied that reasonable minds could not differ on the issue of the driver’s status as a joint employee of both companies. Accordingly, the Workers’ Compensation Act barred this common law negligence action against the owner of the tractor.