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Employee Injured on Commercial Premises May Sue Employer’s Partner Which Leased the Premises

Under the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act, injured workers are assured of relatively swift and certain compensation payments in exchange for relinquishing their rights to pursue a potentially larger recovery in a common law action. This concept is known in legal circles as the “workers’ compensation bar.”  This bar does not, however, preclude an injured employee from suing a third party for negligence that contributed to the accident.

Sometimes questions arise as to whom the workers’ compensation bar will be extended.

The New Jersey Appellate Division ruled last week that the workers’ compensation bar will not shield commercial lessees who are in partnership with employers on the premises from suits by injured employees.

In Whitfield v. Bonanno Realty Group, the court allowed the plaintiff Whitfield to sue her employer’s general partner, Time Warner Entertainment-Advance/Newhouse a/k/a TWFanch-One Co. (“TWF”), for damages in a third party suit, notwithstanding Whitfield’s receipt of workers’ compensation benefits from her employer, TWF’s general partner, Time Warner Entertainment Co.  In the ruling, Judge Carmen Messano said, “[w]e are convinced that in this case, the immunity accorded to Time Warner does not, as a matter of general partnership jurisprudence, flow to TWF so as to immunize the partnership for plaintiff’s common law negligence claims.”

The lesson in the case for those leasing commercial real estate is to pay attention to how the lease is held and to review their insurance policies with their agent or broker to ensure that all of the correct coverage is in place.