On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County.
Antell and Conley (temporarily assigned). The opinion of the Court was delivered by Conley, J.s.c. (temporarily assigned).
This appeal raises the issue of whether the workers' compensation bar against common-law tort claims contained in N.J.S.A. 34:15-8 applies to co-employees working in different State departments. We conclude that it does.
The facts are not in dispute. Plaintiff, a New Jersey State employee with the New Jersey State Police, was struck by a state vehicle driven by defendant Solomacha, a New Jersey State employee with the Department of Treasury. At the time of the accident, both employees were performing their respective State duties. Plaintiff received workers' compensation benefits from the State and now seeks to pursue his fellow State employee, as well as the State, for damages claimed to have been caused by negligence on the part of defendant Solomacha. The complaint was dismissed by the trial court on the basis of N.J.S.A. 34:15-8. On appeal, plaintiff contends the statutory bar applies only where there is commonality in the
employment relationship or where both employees are engaged in a common enterprise.
N.J.S.A. 34:15-8 provides in pertinent part:
If an injury or death is compensable under this article, a person shall not be liable to anyone at common law or otherwise on account of such injury or death for any act or omission occurring while such person was in the same employ as the person injured or killed, except for intentional wrong. [emphasis added].
Enacted in 1961 as an amendment to N.J.S.A. 34:15-8, this legislatively fashioned bar was intended to relieve employers of an obligation, direct or indirect, for common-law damage judgments. Millison v. E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co., 101 N.J. 161, 185 (1985); Miller v. Muscarelle, 67 N.J. Super. 305, 321 (App.Div.1961), certif. den., 36 N.J. 140 (1961). On its face, the bar applies to plaintiff's negligence suit against defendant Solomacha. Though both work for different departments of the State, the employer of both is, in fact, the State. Cf. Assoc. of N.J. State Col. Fac. v. Bd. of Higher Ed., 112 N.J. Super. 237, 245-246 (Law Div.1970). Neither the State Police nor the Department of Treasury is a separate legal entity, but rather each is a division or department of the State performing State functions. Id. See N.J. Const. of 1947, Art. V, § 4, par. 1, 2.
We reject plaintiff's argument that when the Legislature used the words "in the same employ" it intended to limit the class of co-employees to those involved in a common employment relationship or common enterprise. A similar argument was raised in Bergen v. Miller, 104 N.J. Super. 350 (App.Div.1969), certif. den., 53 N.J. 582 (1969). In that case, plaintiff, an employee of General Motors, had been treated by a doctor also employed by General Motors. She sought to avoid the statutory bar by arguing employment functions of a company doctor are distinct from employment functions of an industrial worker and thus neither are "in the same employ". In rejecting this argument, we said:
We see no valid reason for making any such distinction. The Legislature did not do so. The broad language of the state applies to all employees. We discussed the rationale which prompted the adoption of N.J.S.A. 34:15-8 in Miller v. Muscarelle, 67 N.J. Super. 305, 321 (App.Div.1961), certification
denied 36 N.J. 140 (1961). Simply stated, its purpose was to make the injured workman's remedy exclusive under the Workmen's Compensation Act both as to the employer and the fellow-employee, except where the fellow-employee was guilty of some intentional wrong. There was no intent in the adoption of the statute to classify fellow-employees. Therefore, the immunity applies to a fellow-employee even ...