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Andersen v. Well-Built Homes of Central Jersey Inc.

Decided: May 19, 1961.


Conford, Freund and Kilkenny. The opinion of the court was delivered by Kilkenny, J.A.D.


This is a workmen's compensation case. The petitioner was injured on June 6, 1958 in a compensable accident, while working contemporaneously for the three respondents. She performed secretarial duties for each of them in their common business office, without any time allocation of her services. She slipped on a loose piece of plastic lying on the office floor while going to answer the telephone. It is unknown for which respondent the incoming call was intended. Her weekly salary of $60 was paid by her three coemployers as follows: Joseph M. Racina, $30; Joseph M. Racina Agency, Inc., $15; and Well-Built Homes of Central Jersey, Inc., $15.

The Division of Workmen's Compensation found and determined that "petitioner was in the joint employment of the three-named respondents." (Emphasis supplied.) It awarded her 24 5/7 weeks of temporary disability at $36 per week; and thereafter, in the same workmen's compensation proceeding, awarded her for permanent disability 10% of partial total, 55 weeks at $35 per week, besides incidental hospital, medical, legal and other expenses. The Division, in its original judgment of May 29, 1959 providing compensation for temporary disability, and again in its supplemental judgment of January 22, 1960 covering the permanent disability award, assessed an aliquot part of the amounts payable against each respondent in the proportion that each contributed to her combined salary. In substance, Joseph M. Racina, a real estate broker, was directed to pay sums equal to 50% of the awards. Joseph M. Racina Agency, Inc., a corporate entity created by Joseph M. Racina to carry on an insurance business, and Well-Built Homes of Central Jersey, Inc., another of his corporate creations engaged in selling houses, or shells of houses, were each assessed 25% of the amounts payable.

Petitioner appealed to the Middlesex County Court from so much of the Division's judgments as apportioned responsibility among the three respondents to pay the awards.

The County Court determined that the petitioner was in the "joint employ" of the three respondents at the time of the accident. It found:

"There was an intermingling of her time devoted to the three employers, and no allocation of duties by each employer. An activity would on occasions involve one, or both, or all three employers' work. No distinction of duties was defined. It therefore is the opinion of this court that the three respondents are jointly and severally liable to the petitioner, and that the Deputy Director improperly apportioned liability."

On this appeal by Well-Built Homes alone it is argued that the County Court erred in holding all three jointly and severally liable, rather than each liable for a proportionate share only, as the Division had provided. Only Well-Built Homes carried workmen's compensation insurance, so that, in practical effect, its carrier may possibly be called upon by petitioner to pay the total award, instead of only 25% thereof. Well-Built Homes does not dispute petitioner's right to workmen's compensation, or the quantum awarded for temporary or permanent disability. It seeks merely to limit its personal obligation to 25% of the sums payable, by avoiding the County Court's conclusion of joint and several liability.

We have made the required independent study of the entire record to determine the facts and to evaluate them by full investigation and analysis of the evidence. Russo v. United States Trucking Corp. , 26 N.J. 430, 435 (1958). We concur in the fact finding of the Division and the County Court that the petitioner was in the joint employment of the three respondents at the time she suffered the compensable accident, which caused her temporary and permanent disabilities. We agree with the conclusion of the County Court that the facts gave rise to joint and several liability on the part of the three respondents. Under the circumstances, so far as petitioner's rights are concerned, she may get satisfaction of her judgments against any one or more of respondents.

An employee injured in the course of joint employment may recover workmen's compensation benefits against the joint employers on the basis of joint and several liability. In Cser v. Silverman , 46 N.J. Super. 599 (Cty. Ct. 1957), affirmed 50 N.J. Super. 125 (App. Div. 1958), petitioner was in the joint employment of both respondents, Silverman, an individual, and his corporation, at a salary of $65 per week at the time of the occurrence of the compensable accident. Silverman contributed $40 and the corporation $25 to the weekly salary. It was held that petitioner was entitled to recover against both of such employers, jointly. The court noted that the corporation was a convenience of the individual respondent, and the wage contributions "were nothing more than matters of bookkeeping or tax advantage to the two persons who paid the wages." The employee, Cser, "was on duty call to both the corporation and to the individual at all times during the week, as Silverman might from time to time direct." The facts of Cser v. Silverman are very much akin to those in the instant case.

In Scott v. Public Service Interstate Transp. Co. , 6 N.J. Super. 226 (App. Div. 1950), the decedent suffered a fatal accident while doing general cleaning work at a garage maintained and controlled by two bus companies. His work was directed by a common superintendent. He received a single paycheck, but his earnings were allocated on the companies' books between them. He was cleaning the bus of one company when he was negligently injured by the bus of the other company. The effect of dual employment under the Workmen's Compensation Act, R.S. 34:15-1 et seq. was considered by our court. We concluded that the joint control of the employee's work effort made both liable for compensation benefits.

New Amsterdam Casualty Co. v. Popovich , 18 N.J. 218 (1955), while deciding that one employer who pays the full compensation award may recover contribution from the other joint employer, cited the Scott ...

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