Officer Can Bring Lawsuit For Being Struck By Lightning

Steven Walrond is an officer with the South Brunswick, New Jersey Police Department. The Department assigned Walrond to serve one week as a “duty officer” at the Somerset County Police Academy. While serving at the Academy, a lightning bolt struck Walrond, causing severe personal injuries.

Walrond was awarded workers’ compensation benefits by the Department, but also brought a civil lawsuit against the Academy and several members of its staff. Walrond alleged that the Academy was negligent for conducting an outdoor physical training session under dangerous weather conditions.

The question before the Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court was whether Walrond was an “employee” of the Academy. Under New Jersey’s workers’ compensation law – as with the workers’ compensation laws in most states – the exclusive remedy for employees with on-the-job injuries is that obtainable through the workers’ compensation system. Under this general structure, in exchange for receiving workers’ compensation benefits, which are awarded without regard to fault, the employee surrenders common-law tort remedies against his or her employer and co-employees, except for intentional torts.

The Academy contended that Walrond was a “lent employee” who had been temporarily “borrowed” for workers’ compensation benefits. The “lent employee” rule applies only if (1) the employee has made a contract of hire with the special employer; (2) work being done is essentially that of the special employer; and (3) the special employer has the right to control the details of the work.

The Court found that the “lent employee” rule did not apply in Walrond’s case because there was no direct or indirect compensation paid by the Academy. As the Court described, “Walrond was to receive his salary from the South Brunswick Police Department during his scheduled week as duty officer for the Academy. He remained in South Brunswick’s general employment. The Academy provided Walrond no financial consideration whatsoever. He received from the Academy neither wages nor non-monetary benefits for his work, such as additional training, equipment, or free room and board. Moreover, the Academy did not in any way compensate the South Brunswick Police Department for Walrond’s services.”

The Court concluded that Walrond was a “volunteer duty officer” who could not be considered an employee of the Academy. Accordingly, the Court allowed Walrond’s lawsuit to proceed.

Walrond v. County of Somerset, 2006 WL 10098 (N.J.Sup. 2006).

This article appears in the February 2006 issue