(c) 2010-2024 Jon L Gelman, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Trench Injury Not an Intentional Wrong

A Federal Court held that injuries sustained while cleaning a trench conveyor trim removal system at a paper manufacturing facility did not meet the threshold test for an intentional tort.


  • The injured worker, Plaintiff, was hired by the employer, IPC, as a machine operator.
  • IPC operates a corrugated box manufacturing facility with a trench conveyor trim removal system.
  • The system removes waste materials, but some fall into a pit, requiring manual cleaning.
  • IPC did not provide specific training for cleaning the pit and offered overtime pay to entry-level employees for the task.
  • The cleaning occurred while the machinery was still operating with unguarded moving parts.
  • On the day of the incident, the Plaintiff was directed to clean the pit while the machine was operational. His glove got caught in the rollers, crushing his arm.
  • Employees cleaning the pit were not trained or authorized to shut down the machine.

Legal Issues:

  • Whether the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA) bars William's intentional tort claim against IPC.

New Jersey Workers' Compensation Act (WCA):

  • Requires employers to provide compensation for workplace injuries without regard to fault.
  • Employees relinquish their right to sue for common law remedies unless the injury resulted from the employer's "intentional wrong."

Intentional Wrong under WCA:

  • Two-prong test:
    • Conduct prong: This requires the employer to act with the knowledge that their conduct carries a "substantial certainty" of injury or death. Mere knowledge of a dangerous workplace is not enough.
    • Context prong: Analyzes whether the injury is "plainly beyond anything the legislature could have contemplated as entitling the employee to recover only under the Compensation Act."

Court's Decision:

  • Dismissed the claim against IPC.
  • The plaintiff failed to meet the burden of proof for either prong of the intentionally wrong test.
    • Conduct prong: The TAC (Third Amended Complaint) does not allege facts demonstrating IPC knew its practices were virtually certain to result in injury.
    • Context prong: Injury from cleaning machinery is considered a normal part of "industrial life" within the WCA's scope.

Plaintiff's Opportunity to Amend Complaint:

  • The plaintiff can file a new complaint within 14 days, addressing the deficiencies identified by the Court.
  • The amended complaint should focus on factual allegations establishing IPC's knowledge of substantial certainty of harm and removing IPC from the other counts.

Recommended Citation: Gelman, Jon L.,  Trench Injury Not an Intentional Wrong, (07/03/2024)




*Jon L. Gelman of Wayne, NJ, is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters). For over five decades, the Law Offices of Jon Gelman  1.973.696.7900 
 has represented injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational illnesses and diseases.

Blog: Workers' Compensation

LinkedIn: JonGelman

LinkedIn Group: Injured Workers Law & Advocacy Group

Author: "Workers' Compensation Law" West-Thomson-Reuters

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© 2024 Jon L Gelman. All rights reserved.

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