Wrongful Death and the Workers Compensation Act

Submitted by New Jersey Civil Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

This blog concerns Blackshear v. Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc. which was decided by the Appellate Division on October 6, 2014. The plaintiff, wife of Mr. Blackshear brought a wrongful death claim against his former employer and several pesticide manufacturers when he died of brain cancer. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants for failure of the plaintiff to establish an intentional wrong exception to the exclusivity bar of the Workers Compensation Act. What this means is that in order for an employer to lose immunity under that act the plaintiff must show that:

  1. The employer must know that his actions are substantially certain to result in injury or death to the employee
  2. The resulting injury must be
    1. More than a fact of life of industrial employment
    2. Plainly beyond anything the Legislature intended the Workers Compensation Act to immunize

Wrongful Death Exceptions to Workers Comp Exclusivity

What the above really means is that the Legislature understands that some jobs are inherently dangerous. This is the case for exterminators and other people who work with deadly pesticides and toxins. No matter how reasonably safe a company’s business practices are there will likely be some injuries (although it should be noted that the company in this case had not faced a suit of this nature from an employee in over three decades). In this case the evidence revealed that the company warned the Mr. Bearshear of the dangers of the chemicals and made reasonable (even if not perfect) safety precautions part of company policy. Even if Mr. Bearshear’s brain cancer was directly related to his job, the facts do not create an exception here. Exceptions to the exclusivity cause were meant for employers who create unusually dangerous conditions by the standards of their industry and mislead employees into thinking they are safe. This was not the case here and as a result the summary judgment was affirmed.

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