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Monday, January 8, 2024

Not A Violation of Public Policy

In rejecting an employee’s attempt to go forward with a lawsuit directly against an employer, the NJ Appellate Division ruled, in an unreported case*, that an employee, in a novel argument,  may assert the “violation of public policy” as an allegation.

The case involved a worker who was injured when opening an electrical panel in the course of his employment. While the worker sought and received workers’ compensation benefits, an additional claim was filed against his employer for alleged gross negligence, simple negligence, and intentional wrongs against the employer for failure to warn and instruct, among many other allegations.


The employee alleged that it should be against public policy for an employer to engage in such activity; therefore, a civil action should be permitted to go forward. In addressing the public policy argument, the Court interpreted the insurance policy's language by the insurance carrier, who asserted that it had no duty to defend under the employer's liability insurance policy with Hartford Underwriters Insurance Company. The exclusion is embodied in the Employer’s Liability EII exclusion.”

The trial judge found that “Hartford’s exclusion provision was unambiguous, stating 'this insurance does not cover any and all intentional wrongs within the exception allowed by N.J.S.A. 34:15-8” (emphasis omitted) (citation omitted); thus, Hartford’s policy excluded coverage…'” The appellate court agreed and distinguished the contractual language from that raised in the NJ Mfrs. Ins. Co. v. DELTA PLASTICS, 911 A. 2d 477 - NJ: Supreme Court 2006 and Charles Beseler Co. v. O'Gorman & Young, 911 A. 2d 47 - NJ: Supreme Court 2006


The Court reasoned that the NJ Department of Banking and Insurance approved the contractual insurance policy language and, therefore, conformed with public policy. Government Employees Ins. Co. v. Daniels, 434 A. 2d 648 - NJ: Appellate Div. 1981.


Additionally, the Court outright rejected the assertion of an intentional tort claim, holding that the employer’s actions were not substantially certain to cause harm. Millison v. EI du Pont de Nemours & Co., 501 A. 2d 505 - NJ: Supreme Court 1985, Laidlow v. Hariton Mach. Co., Inc., 790 A. 2d 884 - NJ: Supreme Court 2002, and Van Dunk v. Reckson Associates Realty Corp., 2 A. 3d 456 - NJ: Appellate Div. 2010.

Rodriquez v. Shelborne Spring, LLC, 2023 WL 8868415 (NJ App. Div. 2024) Decided December 22, 2024.

*UNPUBLISHED OPINION. CHECK COURT RULES BEFORE CITING. NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION. This opinion shall not “constitute precedent or be binding upon any court.” Although it is posted on the internet, this opinion is binding only on the parties in the case, and its use in other cases is limited. R. 1:36-3. Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.