On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, L-1058-04.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sabatino, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges A. A. Rodríguez, Sabatino and Lyons.
Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 34:15-8, the Legislature has prescribed that workers compensation is the sole remedy against an employer for a covered employee who is injured on the job, except where the employer's conduct amounts to an "intentional wrong." We are asked in this appeal to decide whether the statute's intentional-wrong exception applies to a situation where a schoolteacher is accidentally injured during the course of a fight between two students within the school.
For the reasons explained in this opinion, we affirm the Law Division's holding that a schoolteacher's claim of this nature fails the so-called "context" prong of Laidlow v. Hariton Machinery Co., 170 N.J. 602, 614-617 (2002), and that, under present law, workers compensation is the exclusive remedy for such an injured teacher against her employer. Consequently, we affirm the dismissal of the plaintiff's negligence lawsuit seeking damages against her school district and various employees of the district.
This matter of first impression arises out of an incident at Roxbury High School on April 15, 2002. That morning plaintiff*fn1 Mary Kibler, an English teacher, was in the high school auditorium supervising a school assembly. While plaintiff was standing near the back of the auditorium, a student ("S.H.") suddenly bolted out of his seat, ran up the aisle, and got into an altercation with another student ("B.L."). During the course of the students' altercation, plaintiff, who was looking in the other direction, was knocked down from behind and injured. Plaintiff concedes that she was not struck intentionally.
Following the incident plaintiff and her husband filed a civil action for damages against the Roxbury Board of Education, the district's superintendent, the high school principal, two vice-principals, and various fictitious defendants associated with the school. Her complaint alleges that the defendants were "negligent, careless, reckless and/or intentional and palpably unreasonable" in failing to assure her safety in the school workplace. In particular, plaintiff faults defendants for inadequately disciplining S.H., who had a history of behavioral problems, before the altercation and, in particular, for allowing him to remain in the regular student body. Plaintiff did not sue S.H., B.L. or their guardians.*fn2
The record reflects that S.H. had transferred in January 2001 to the Roxbury school district, where his father resides, from another district where his mother resides.
S.H. has a troubled past. In December 2000 he was arrested on charges of aggravated assault, simple assault and resisting arrest. In August 2001 he was charged with juvenile offenses for burglary, theft and conspiracy. S.H. appeared in the juvenile court for a third time in October 2001 for possession of alcohol, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Although the record does not reveal the precise dispositions of these arrests, it is undisputed that S.H. was adjudicated delinquent and had been under the supervision of a probation officer, at least as of December 2001. The record indicates that several teachers at Roxbury High School, including plaintiff, were aware of and had discussed S.H.'s arrests prior to the April 15, 2002 incident. The school also received a letter from S.H.'s probation officer in February 2002 reporting that S.H. had been ordered to undergo a chemical dependency evaluation in December 2001.
Apart from his juvenile involvement, S.H. also had violated school rules and regulations on numerous occasions. During his sixteen months at Roxbury High School from January 2001 through April 2002, S.H. committed twenty-four documented infractions. These infractions mainly involved tardiness, class-cutting, smoking, going to unauthorized areas within the school, and missing assigned detentions. One more serious incident involved S.H. "trashing" a school bus.
Two of S.H.'s disciplinary infractions resulted in his suspension from school. First, on October 12, 2001, S.H. broke into the school after hours during a football game. He was suspected of drinking and was detained by police, who he resisted during the course of arrest. S.H. was given a ten-day out-of-school suspension, ...