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A worker injured in a motor vehicle accident driven by a colleague cannot pursue negligence claims against employer despite the co-worker’s history of accidents and sleep apnea diagnosis.
In Magnifico v. James, a three-judge panel of the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey unanimously affirmed a trial court decision, holding on Tuesday that the worker’s claims were barred by the exclusivity provision of the New Jersey Workers Compensation Act.
Louis Magnifico was riding in a public works truck owned by his employer, the Township of Millburn, and driven by his co-worker, Nathaniel James. Mr. Magnifico claimed that he observed Mr. James with his head down on the wheel and seemingly asleep right before the truck hit a tree and rolled, leaving Mr. Magnifico severely injured. He and his wife filed a lawsuit against the Township of Millburn and Mr. James, alleging that Millburn negligently permitted Mr. James to operate the vehicle.
Mr. James held a commercial driver’s license and underwent annual examinations. He had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea, but his physician stated that his medical issues did not preclude him from maintaining his commercial driver’s license.
He had also been involved in a number of prior accidents, including hitting a tree in a parking lot while salting, backing into a tree and damaging his tailgate, and backing into a garage.
Mr. Magnifico argued that Mr. James had been diagnosed with narcolepsy prior to the accident and that the township officials “negligently entrusted” him with the vehicle despite being aware of the diagnosis.
A trial court granted the township’s motion for summary judgment, holding that Mr. Magnifico failed to satisfy the standard for the “intentional wrong” necessary to lift the immunity provided to the township by the Workers Compensation Act. Mr. Magnifico and his wife appealed, but the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision.
The appellate court held that Mr. Magnifico failed to overcome the statutory exception of the act’s exclusivity provision by proving an intentional wrong, since the record showed that Mr. James had an up-to-date commercial driver’s license in good standing, had passed his annual physicals and had no disqualifying medical conditions under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Although Mr. Magnifico claimed that Mr. James had been diagnosed with narcolepsy, the court found no evidence that he had been diagnosed with anything but sleep apnea and that there was no competent evidence that the accident was caused in whole or in part by any medical condition.
The appellate court also dismissed Mr. Magnifico’s allegations that the township “created a substantial certainty of injury or death” by allowing Mr. James to drive despite his accident history, noting that his three accidents over a 10-year period of employment were minor and did not result in any personal injury.
As a result, the court affirmed the appellate court’s ruling and dismissed Mr. Magnifico’s claims.
A worker who was injured by a forklift failed to meet the standard of proof to establish “intentional wrong” and her claims, therefore, are barred under the Workers Compensation Act.