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ELSTON v. INDUSTRIAL LIFT TRUCK CO. (01/17/66)

decided: January 17, 1966.

ELSTON
v.
INDUSTRIAL LIFT TRUCK CO., APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas No. 6 of Philadelphia County, Sept. T., 1962, No. 4356, in case of William J. Elston v. Industrial Lift Truck Co., Inc. and Hussman Refrigerator Company.

COUNSEL

Robert F. Blanck, with him McWilliams, Wagoner & Troutman, for appellant.

Joseph R. Thompson, for appellee.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Chief Justice Bell concurs in the result.

Author: Roberts

[ 420 Pa. Page 98]

The genesis of this appeal lies in an industrial accident which occurred in New Jersey. William Elston, a Pennsylvania resident employed by the Hussman Refrigerator Company at its plant in Haddonfield, New

[ 420 Pa. Page 99]

Jersey, sustained an injury in the course of his employment while operating a fork-lift truck. The truck had been recently purchased by Elston's employer from the Industrial Lift Truck Company, Inc., a Pennsylvania corporation located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

As a result of his injury, Elston became entitled to benefits under the New Jersey Workmen's Compensation Act. 34 N.J. Stat. Ann. Chs. 15-1 to 15-127 (1959). Pursuant thereto, he entered into an agreement with his employer, Hussman, providing for the payment of such benefits.

Subsequently, Elston, acting in accordance with New Jersey law, which permits an injured employee covered by workmen's compensation to pursue an action for negligence against a third-party tortfeasor, filed suit in Pennsylvania against Industrial. The complaint alleged, inter alia, that Industrial had failed properly to rebuild and test the truck before delivery to Hussman.

In turn, Industrial sought to join Hussman, Elston's employer, as an additional defendant by filing a third-party complaint alleging that Hussman, by reason of its conduct, was jointly and severally liable. Hussman, in its answer to Industrial's complaint, asserted compliance with New Jersey Workmen's Compensation Act and raised the affirmative defense that under that state's law further liability was thereby precluded. It thereupon moved for judgment on the pleadings. The court, giving effect to the New Jersey law, granted the motion and this appeal by Industrial followed.

Industrial does not dispute the consequences which follow from the application of New Jersey law. Under the law of that state, when an employee entitled to workmen's compensation benefits pursues a common law action against a third party based upon negligence, the third party is barred from joining and claiming

[ 420 Pa. Page 100]

    contribution from the plaintiff's statutory employer. Public Service Elec. & Gas Co. v. Waldroup, 38 N.J. Super. 419, 119 A.2d 172 (App. Div. 1955); Farren v. N. J. Turnpike Auth., 31 N.J. Super. 356, 106 A.2d 752 (App. Div. 1954); Bertone v. Turco Products, Inc., 252 F. 2d 726 (3d Cir. 1958); see Hagen v. Koerner, 64 N.J. Super. 580, 166 A.2d 784 (App. Div. 1960) (dictum); cf. Stillwell v. McGrath, 85 N.J. Super. 252, 204 A.2d 385 (Law Div. 1964). Thus, under New Jersey law, Hussman, as Elston's statutory employer, could not be joined by Industrial as an additional defendant.

Industrial, however, contends that the law of New Jersey is not applicable in the instant suit. It urges that the appropriate reference should be to the law of Pennsylvania which allows a limited form of contribution from a negligent statutory employer to a third-party tortfeasor. Brown Equipment Rental Corp. v. Dickey, 397 Pa. 454, 155 A.2d 836 (1959); Shaull v. A. S. Beck New York Shoe Co., Inc., 369 Pa. 112, 85 A.2d 698 (1952); Maio v. Fahs, 339 Pa. 180, 14 A.2d 105 (1940); Stark v. Posh Construction Co., 192 Pa. Superior Ct. 409, 162 A.2d 9 (1960). Accordingly, the application of Pennsylvania law would permit the instant joinder but would limit the amount recoverable by Industrial from Hussman to the latter's liability under the Workmen's Compensation Act. Brown ...


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