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Schultz v. Board of Education of Caldwell

A-2894-03T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

WORKERS COMPENSATION—Even though an employer knows of a malfunctioning piece of equipment, where no previous injury has resulted, the workers compensation bar protects the employer when an injury does result, because, under those circumstances, the employer was merely negligent in not remedying the problem beforehand; it was not guilty of an intentional wrong.

An art teacher was severely injured opening a glass display case when the case’s glass door shattered. The rails on which the glass plates slid were bent and sticky. Therefore, to open the case, considerable pressure was required. Many other employees had previously complained about this condition.

The teacher sued the school, attempting to overcome the exclusivity bar of the Workers’ Compensation Law. Under that statute, an employee may sue the employer for injuries arising out of an otherwise compensable accident only if the employer’s conduct amounted to an intentional wrong. To prove that conduct was “intentional,” it is necessary to show that the employer knew that its actions were substantially certain to result in injury to the employee and the resulting injury and the circumstances of its infliction on the worker must be more than a fact of life of the employment. It must have been plainly beyond anything the Legislature intended the Workers’ Compensation Act to immunize.

The lower court held that although there had been many requests to have the display case repaired, and it was clear that the board of education was on notice that the display case presented some danger, the display case had never shattered before. Therefore, the lower court found that this was just a case of negligence, well within the scope of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Therefore, because the board’s actions did not amount to an intentional wrong, the Appellate Division held that the suit was barred by the Workers’ Compensation Act.

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