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Jennie Rosario worked for the State of New Jersey as a case worker for the Division of Youth and Family Services. She left the Division’s Maplewood office intending to get into a State-owned vehicle on May 23, 2006 to perform her duties as a field case-worker. As she was leaving the office, her ex-husband assaulted her with a knife, slicing her head. A fellow Division employee managed to distract the ex-husband, who then stabbed himself with the knife. Petitioner then filed a workers’ compensation claim for her injuries.
Days before the attack, petitioner Rosario had been granted a divorce judgment. Rosario had also previously obtained a domestic violence final restraining order against her ex-husband for attempting to murder her mother. Her supervisor had a copy of the restraining order. Security guards were notified of the threat posed to Rosario. Indeed, she asked for the transfer to the office in Maplewood from the East Orange Division office because she was worried about her ex-husband’s release from jail. She feared that he would come to the East Orange office location.
When Rosario’s ex-husband got released from jail, he devised a plan to reach out to her in order to apologize to her for his past criminal acts. On release from jail, her ex-husband contacted the Division’s East Orange office to find her. The receptionist told the ex-husband that she had just been transferred to the Maplewood office. That information led the ex-husband to travel to the Maplewood office where the assault occurred.
The Judge of Compensation held that this attack was a purely personal risk, not incident to Rosario’s employment, and therefore not compensable. Petitioner’s ex-husband testified that the reason that he went to see Rosario was both to apologize for his criminal behavior and to see if the two could reconcile. The Judge of Compensation reasoned that this assault could have occurred anywhere. The ex-husband tried calling petitioner on her cell phone first without success, and he only contacted the Division because he wanted to meet her in a public place.
Rosario argued that since the State disclosed her new location in Maplewood, this was no longer a personal risk. She contended that the State’s actions led to the likelihood that the assault would occur at work. Rosario’s contention was that the State had a duty not to disclose her location given that it was in possession of the restraining order.
On appeal, the court reviewed the case of Howard v. Harwood’s Rest. Co., 25 N.J. 72 (1957) for the proposition that when an attack arises out of a personal relationship, there is no right to workers’ compensation. The Court concurred with the Judge of Compensation that the attack stemmed not from work but from a personal relationship outside work. The Court disregarded the argument that the State had been negligent in offering petitioner’s new location. “Whether an employer actually commits a negligent act is irrelevant to determining compensability – the sole issue is whether the injury is work-related.”
This case is now the second in a few months in which the Appellate Division has found assaults that occurred at work were not compensable because of the personal relationship between the criminal actor and the petitioner victim. This case can be found atRosario v. State of New Jersey, A-4526-13T3 (App. Div. January 28, 2016).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.