On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-2452-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 10, 2012
Before Judges Espinosa and Guadagno.
Plaintiff Deborah Mingay was injured while on her way to work, when
she slipped and fell on ice in the parking lot of her office at 900
Corporate Drive in Mahwah. This commercial property was owned by
defendant RAD Data Communications, Inc. (RAD Data). Deborah*fn1
was employed by Radbit Computers, Inc. (Radbit), who leased
office space in the complex from RAD Data. Following her accident,
Deborah collected workers' compensation benefits from her employer.
Deborah and her husband Gary filed a complaint against RAD Data and Borst Landscape & Design, the company responsible for maintaining the premises. Deborah alleged negligence while Gary claimed loss of consortium. RAD Data filed an answer asserting that Deborah had received workers' compensation benefits from her employer and asserted the defense that her complaint is barred by the immunity provisions of N.J.S.A. 34:15-8. Following the completion of discovery, plaintiff moved for summary judgment to strike defendant's immunity defense while RAD Data cross-moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.
After oral argument, the trial court granted summary judgment to RAD Data on the grounds that RAD Data and Radbit were "joint employers" of Deborah. Since she had received workers' compensation benefits, her claim was barred by the immunity provision.
On appeal, plaintiffs argue that Deborah was not employed by RAD Data and the trial court misapplied the law. We agree and reverse.
In reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we employ the same standards as the motion court, and ask if "the moving party has demonstrated there were no genuine disputes as to material facts." Whitfield v. Bonanno Real Estate Grp., 419 N.J. Super. 547, 551 (App. Div. 2011). The trial court's conclusions of law, however, are reviewed de novo. Manalapan Realty, L.P. v. Twp. Comm. of Manalapan, 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence presented "show[s] that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact challenged and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment or order as a matter of law." R. 4:46-2(c).
In this case, the facts were essentially undisputed and the trial court's decision was based upon the legal conclusions drawn from those facts. We owe no deference to the judge's interpretation of the law. Manalapan, supra, 140 N.J. at 378.
The Workers' Compensation Act (the WCA) provides that "[w]hen personal injury is caused to an employee by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment, . . . he shall receive compensation . . . from his employer." N.J.S.A. 34:15-1. "When employer and employee . . . by agreement . . . accept the provisions of [the WCA,] compensation for personal injuries to . . . such employee . . . shall be made by the employer without regard to the negligence of the employer."
N.J.S.A. 34:15-7. This statutory scheme is "designed to establish a no fault system of compensation for workers who are injured or contract a disease in the course of employment." Brock v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 325 N.J. Super. 582, 588 (App. Div. 1999), certif. denied, 163 N.J. 77 (2000). This scheme "is remedial social legislation and should be given liberal construction in order that its beneficent purposes may be accomplished." Torres v. Trenton Times Newspaper, 64 N.J. 458, 461 (1974).
Participating in this scheme is elective and by agreeing to participate, "the parties . . . [surrender] their rights to any other method, form or amount of compensation." N.J.S.A. 34:15-8. The employer and co-employees of the injured worker are immunized "except for intentional wrong[s]." Ibid. The quid pro quo for the employees is that they "receive assurance of relatively swift and certain compensation payments, but . . . relinquish their rights to pursue a potentially larger recovery in a common-law action." Millison v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 101 N.J. 161, 174. "[The WCA] seeks to protect injured workers from becoming ...