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Salzano v. Greg Cin Material Handling

BER-L-5959-01 (N.J. Super. Law Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

WORKERS COMPENSATION; EXCLUSIVE REMEDY; STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS—A claim that the Workers Compensation exclusivity bar does not apply is subject to the discovery rule that extends the statute of limitations.

At work, an employee frequently stood on the blades of a forklift. This lifted him up allowing him to retrieve products from stacked pallets. On one occasion, he fell from the blades, injuring himself. In his initial complaint, filed November 26, 2001, the employee did not name his employer because he felt that he was precluded from doing so because of the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy clause. In February 2003, he was allowed to amend the complaint to include the employer. In his amended complaint, the injured employee asserted a new theory of liability against his employer based on an intentional act. The employee claimed that he was required to stand on the forklift to perform his job duties. In opposition, the employer argued that it was unaware that its employees stood on the blades of the forklift; much less that it required such behavior.

The employer also argued that the intentional act claim against it was time-barred by the two-year statute of limitations. It asserted that its employee knew the name of his employer and knew that the employer allegedly required the employees to stand on the forklift at the time of his injury. On that basis, it argued those claims should have been made in the initial complaint. The employee contended that he did not have this information to make these claims earlier. He said that he did not discover, until October 2002, that his employer had purchased the forklift and that on the day after the accident, the employer bought a safety basket for it. As a result of this discovery, the employee reasoned that the employer had prior awareness of the dangerous use of the forklift and of the availability of safety equipment. On the same facts, the employer claimed that the employee should have been aware of the purchase of a safety cage because it happened within one week of the accident.

The Court held that a cause of action does not accrue until a plaintiff learns or reasonably should learn the existence of that state of facts which may equate in law with a cause of action. Because the employer purchased the safety cage within one week of the accident, the Court found that its employee should have discovered the possible basis for an actionable claim by December 2000. Consequently, because the amended compliant was not filed until February 7, 2003, the claims filed against the employer were untimely and barred.

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