Daniel Cordiero owned Danny’s Construction Company, which did masonry and concrete work. The company employed eight or nine employees.  Cordeiro purchased an investment property in Asbury Park, New Jersey. He listed Danny’s as the repair and renovation general contractor on the construction permits. As general contractor, Danny’s hired plumbing and electrical subcontractors and paid the going rate for their work.

 

            On June 17, 2010, Cordeiro drove two of his employees to a jobsite where they were supposed to perform concrete work. Due to jobsite conditions, the work they intended to perform could not be done. Cordeiro then decided to drive the two workers to the Asbury home where he and one of his co-workers climbed the roof to install a skylight. While doing cutting work, Cordeiro fell through the roof onto the concrete floor below. He suffered paraplegia from a spinal cord injury as well as multiple fractures and respiratory failure. The parties agreed that he was totally and permanently disabled from the fall.

 

            The insurance company, Sentinel, denied the claim and asserted that Cordeiro’s injuries resulted from his personal activities in his own home. The company also produced an underwriter who identified herself as an employee of The Hartford. She said that the workers’ compensation insurance policy only covered the installation of concrete slabs for residential homes. However, there was no specific policy language confirming such a policy limitation. 

 

            The Judge of Compensation ruled for petitioner and Sentinel appealed. In a fairly brief opinion, the Court affirmed the award of 100% permanent total disability to petitioner. The Court conceded that Danny’s employees generally performed concrete and masonry work, noting that some of the renovation work done on Cordeiro’s property was beyond the usual scope of work performed by Danny’s. In this case, Danny’s employees did pour the concrete floor in the room where Cordeiro was injured. 

 

            The reasoning of the Court was that Cordeiro should be covered under workers’ compensation because, as an employee of the company, he was performing a task assigned by the employer. The Court noted that “[t]he language of the [Act] must be liberally construed in favor of employees,” citingCannuscio v. Claridge Hotel, 319 N.J. Super. 342, 249 (App. Div. 1999). The holding in this case is not surprising because there are few if any published cases in New Jersey where the defense has been accepted that the activity that the company engaged far exceeded the specific terms of the application of insurance. The Court rejected the argument that petitioner’s claim should be barred because Danny’s employees only worked more than three feet above ground level doing concrete work. 

 

            This case can be found at Cordeiro v. Danny’s Construction, A-2714-11T3 (App. Div. December 13, 2012).

 

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John H. Geaney, Esq., is an Executive Committee Member and a Shareholder in Capehart Scatchard's Workers’ Compensation Group. Mr. Geaney concentrates his practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, third-party administrators, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. Should you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Mr. Geaney at 856.914.2063 or by e‑mail at jgeaney@capehart.com.