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Burns v. Bethlehem Steel Co.

Decided: November 21, 1955.

GEORGE BURNS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
BETHLEHEM STEEL CO., A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from the Hudson County Court, Law Division.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling, Jacobs and Brennan. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Oliphant, J.

Oliphant

This is an appeal from a summary judgment entered in the Superior Court, Law Division, Hudson County, in favor of the defendant-respondent. The appeal was certified here on our own motion.

The plaintiff-appellant in this action seeks to recover for injuries incurred while he was employed by the respondent. In addition to the present suit the appellant filed on March 18, 1954 a claim for compensation with the Department of Labor and Industries, Division of Workmen's Compensation, in this State. On March 17, 1954 he advised the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Employees' Compensation, of the filing of his claim with our Compensation Bureau. The purpose of that notice was to protect any right he might have under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C.A. ยง 901 et seq., in the event our Bureau found it was without jurisdiction to

entertain his claim. Neither of these compensation claims have been litigated up to date.

The original complaint in this case was filed on November 5, 1954 but an amended complaint was subsequently filed on November 19, 1954. The complaint alleges, that "On or about November, 1949, and for some time prior thereto" plaintiff was a member of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America and while employed as a rigger in defendant's shipyard in Hoboken he received the injuries complained of among which was an impairment of his hearing due to noises and vibrations to which he was subjected while at work. The complaint further alleges non-compliance with R.S. 34:5-3 and R.S. 34:6-48, which provides for certain protection to be given a working man.

The appellant's action was brought by him on the theory that he was a third-party beneficiary under a contract entered into between his union and the respondent and seeks to recover for the personal injuries he sustained, which resulted from the defendant's alleged breach of the terms and conditions of this contract. The contract required the respondent to provide safeguards and safety devices for the benefit of respondent's employees. That contract expired by its own terms on June 23, 1950.

Defendant's answer set up, among others, the defense of lack of jurisdiction in the Superior Court, Law Division, and a further defense that the action was barred by the statute of limitations. The trial court granted the order for summary judgment on the ground that the action was barred by the two-year statute of limitations, N.J.S. 2 A:14-2.

While other points are argued we consider that the dispositive question is: Whether or not the plaintiff's cause of action is barred by the two-year statute of limitations, R.S. 2:24-2, now N.J.S. 2 A:14-2?

Appellant concedes that the action is one for personal injuries, but argues that since his cause of action is predicated upon a breach of the terms of the contract, the applicable statute is N.J.S. 2 A:14-1 which fixes the period of limitation as six years. Where the damages sought are

for injuries to the person, the applicable statute is R.S. 2:24-2 (N.J.S. 2 A:14-2) which fixes the period of two years, ...


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