Harris v. Mitchell – Case Brief Summary (New Jersey)

In Harris v. Mitchell (N.J. Super. 2003) 358 N.J. Super. 504, 818 A.2d 443, the plaintiff was an employee of Burnham Services Company, Inc. Pursuant to federal regulations, Burnham leased a tractor from Larry Mitchell. The plaintiff was injured while loading a trailer attached to Mitchell's tractor when Mitchell's employee suddenly moved the tractor. (Id. at p. 443.)

At issue was "whether the 'statutory' employee status of Mitchell created by federal law made Mitchell the plaintiff's co-employee," thereby barring the plaintiff's claim against Mitchell, his coemployee. (Id. at p. 445.)

The New Jersey court concluded that "the 'statutory' employee status created by 49 U.S.C.A. § 14102(a)(4) and 49 C.F.R. § 376.12(c)(1) should not apply to the present circumstances. The 'employee' status is essentially a legislative fiction intending to shift responsibility for the safe use of leased equipment to the interstate carrier for the purpose of protecting the public, without consideration of whether in fact the carrier 'controls' the conduct of the contractor and its employees. In our view, it was never intended to preclude courts from considering the rights of a carrier's employee under state law." (Harris, supra, 818 A.2d at p. 446.)