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Appelate Division Disapproves Dual Capacity Doctrine

Danielle Fry worked as a cook for Palroll Inc., trading as the Lakeside Tavern in Branchville, N.J. Palroll operated the tavern and also owned the building in which it was located. The owners of Palroll were the Rohls.

On April 13, an employee of a bottling company delivered fifteen canisters of soda and one CO2 canister to the tavern. These canisters were placed in a narrow passage near the tavern’s kitchen.

While these canisters were being delivered, Fry was making pasta salad. She walked from the stove through the narrow passage to get some pasta. When she went to return the box of pasta some time later, her right kneecap struck the side of one of the canisters, causing her to fall and suffer injury.

Fry attempted to sue both Palroll and the Rohls, both of whom argued that they were immune from suit because they employed Fry. The Appellate Division noted, “As an employee of Palroll, Fry’s right to recover from her employer for work-related personal injury would ordinarily be limited to claims brought under the Workers’ Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. 34:15-1 to -142. See N.J.S.A. 34:15-8.”

Fry argued that she should be permitted to sue both Palroll and the Rohls in their capacity as landlords of the tavern. The Court disagreed, “However, as we held in Kaczorowska v. Nat’l Envelope Corp., 342 N.J. Super. 580, 592 (App.Div. 2001) (citations omitted), a ‘dual capacity’ approach is ‘disfavored, if not outright disapproved’ in New Jersey.”

The Court went on to note that the claim plaintiff was advancing did not focus on a structural defect in the building itself owned by Palroll and the Rohls.

“Here, the alleged negligence related to a transient condition in the workplace, rather than a structural or similar problem with the building. For that reason, we conclude that Fry’s claims against Palroll and the Rohls are barred by the Act.”

This case is important as it underscores that the so-called “dual capacity” doctrine is not favored in New Jersey law.

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