This is a motion for summary judgment. The issue is the validity of the dual capacity doctrine in Workers' Compensation cases.
The defendant is the owner of real estate in which it operates a smelting and refining business. The plaintiffs, employees of the defendant, were injured during the course of their employment as a result of an explosion, which they claim was caused by the defendant's negligent operation and maintenance of the premises. The plaintiffs contend that because their injuries were the result of the defendant's violation of its common law duty to keep its premises safe, they should be permitted to bring a common law action against their employer under the dual capacity doctrine.
The defendant responds that Workers' Compensation provides the exclusive remedy to the plaintiffs for the injuries they sustained, and that therefore, they are barred from asserting a claim in common law tort.
The dual capacity doctrine stands for the proposition that an employer who is normally shielded from tort liability by the exclusive remedy principal in Workers' Compensation may be liable in tort to his own employee if he occupies, in addition in his capacity as an employer a second capacity that confers on him obligations independent of those imposed on him as an employer. See A Larson, Law of Workmen's Compensation, § 72.80 (1983).
There are no New Jersey cases which have determined the validity of the doctrine in this state. Courts in other jurisdictions are divided on the question. (See, generally, cases cited in Annot. "Modern Status: 'Dual Capacity Doctrine' as Basis for Employee's Recovery from Employer in Tort," 23 A.L.R. 4th
1151, 1155). Some courts have absolutely rejected the doctrine as being contrary to the philosophy underlying Workers' Compensation laws. In the Treatise A Larson, Law of Workmen's Compensation, § 72.81 at 14-229, 14-239 (1983), the author expresses this reason for rejection:
When one considers how many such added relations an employer might have in the course of a day's work -- as a landowner, land occupier, products manufacturer, installer, modifier, vendor, bailor, repairman, vehicle owner, shipowner, doctor, hospital, health services provider, self-insurer, safety inspector -- it is plain enough that this trend could go a long way toward demolishing the exclusive remedy prinicple.
Other jurisdictions, which have accepted the doctrine, reason:
(I)n the dual capacity situations there is simply no justification for going beyond the intent of the statute by exonerating culpable negligence outside of the employer-employee relationship. The plain intent of current compensation schemes is to protect the employee for injuries which occur in the course of his employment while also preserving his right to bring third-party actions. A third-party action should be no less viable because the duty owed by the tortfeasor springs from an extra-relational capacity of employer rather than arising from another third party. All the reasons supporting the justness of recovering from third parties generally can be assembled to support dual-capacity liability.
However, even in those jurisdictions which have accepted the dual capacity doctrine, its application is usually restricted to situations in which the employer has undertaken a separate role with respect to the employee, as for example, in medical malpractice cases (See Annot. 16 A.L.R. 3rd 564, for an exhaustive treatment of cases involving employer's liability for malpractice of physician furnished by the employer), and in cases where the injuries resulted from defective products provided by the ...