On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County.
Michels, Brody and D'Annunzio. The opinion of the court was delivered by Michels, P.J.A.D.
Plaintiffs Brett A. Errickson (Errickson) and Lee Ann Errickson appeal from a summary judgment of the Law Division dismissing their personal injury negligence action against defendant Supermarkets General Corporation on the ground that it was barred by a settlement agreement entered into in the Law Division, Special Civil Part, between defendant and the workers' compensation insurance carrier for Errickson's employer pursuant to N.J.S.A. 34:15-40(f) of the Workers' Compensation Act.
This personal injury action arose from an accident which occurred July 14, 1986 on defendant's premises at Joyce Kilmer Industrial Park in Middlesex, New Jersey. Errickson claimed he slipped and fell on a dock plate, causing him to sustain personal injuries. At the time of the incident, Brennan Transportation Company (Brennan) employed Errickson as a truck driver. Since Errickson's injuries were work connected, he received medical and temporary workers' compensation benefits from Cigna Insurance Company (Cigna), Brennan's workers' compensation insurance carrier. In an attempt to recoup its payments to Errickson for medical and temporary compensation benefits, Cigna instituted an action against defendant in the Law Division, Special Civil Part, on July 24, 1987 in the name of "plaintiff Brett A. Errickson." By this action, Cigna, in Errickson's name, sought to recover damages for the personal injuries,
pain and suffering, medical expenses and loss of wages Errickson sustained as a result of the accident.
Defendant's attorney settled the claim with Cigna's attorney for $2500. Cigna's attorney prepared a general release and sent it to Errickson for his signature. Under the terms of the release, Errickson was to release "any and all claims embodied in a certain complaint filed in Superior Court of New Jersey, Special Civil Part, Law Division, Middlesex County bearing docket number 375360, involving injuries to [Errickson] . . . on July 14, 1986." Errickson refused to sign the release. Instead, Errickson and his wife instituted this action seeking to recover damages for his personal injuries and loss sustained as a result of the accident. His wife, plaintiff Lee Ann Errickson, sued per quod for loss of consortium.
Defendant moved for summary judgment on the ground that Errickson's claim was barred by the settlement reached in the subrogation action instituted in the Special Civil Part by Cigna pursuant to the provisions of N.J.S.A. 34:15-40(f) of the Workers' Compensation Act. The trial court agreed and granted the motion. Subsequently, the trial court denied Errickson's motion for reconsideration and this appeal followed.
Errickson contends, among other things, that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because genuine material issues of fact exist as to whether (1) Cigna had authorization to institute a subrogation action in the Special Civil Part in his name, and, if not (2) whether he acquiesced in Cigna's prosecuting that action. We agree and reverse.
Summary judgment is a stringent remedy and should not be granted unless the pleadings, affidavits and other papers show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Moreover, where, as here, a subjective element is involved, such as Errickson's understanding of the effect of Cigna's subrogation action, summary judgment is to be granted with caution. Judson v. Peoples Bank & Trust Co. of Westfield, 17 N.J. 67, 76, 110 A.2d 24 (1954); Exxon Corporation v.
Wagner, 154 N.J. Super. 538, 541, 382 A.2d 45 (App.Div.1977); Allen v. Planning Bd. of Evesham Tp., 137 N.J. Super. 359, 363-64, 349 A.2d 99 (App.Div.1975). In evaluating such a motion, we are guided by the standards set forth in United Advertising Corp. v. Metuchen, 35 N.J. 193, 195-96, 172 A.2d 429 (1961), reaff'd, 42 N.J. 1, 198 A.2d 447 (1964), which stated:
Although it must be recognized that the summary judgment procedure has a needful place in our judicial system as a protection "against groundless claims and frivolous defenses, not only to save antagonists the expense of protracted litigation but also to reserve judicial manpower and facilities to cases which meritoriously command attention," Robbins v. Jersey City, 23 N.J. 229 [128 A.2d 673] (1957), sight should never be lost of the fact that such procedure is no substitute for a full plenary trial. Battle v. General Cellulose Co., 23 N.J. 538 [129 A.2d 865] (1957). Only where it is palpably disclosed that there is no genuine issue of fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law should the motion be granted, R.R. 4:58. It is the movant's burden to exclude any reasonable doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. ...