Court: New Jersey Woman Can Pursue Perfume Lawsuit

January 12, 2009

A New Jersey woman who claims she was disabled by a co-workers’ perfume can move forward with her worker’s compensation lawsuit, an appeals panel ruled Friday.

Doris Sexton sued the county-owned nursing home where she worked until January 2004.

In her lawsuit, she claims perfume sprayed by her co-worker left Sexton permanently disabled and unable to work. She said the co-worker sprayed perfume near her at least three separate times on one day.

Sexton, who has a chronic lung condition that resulted from smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 43 years, claims the smell exacerbated her ailment.

A lower court ruled that her reaction to the perfume didn’t arise out of her employment, but the appeals panel said her employer can be held liable because the exposure happened at work.

“The air Sexton had to breathe in order to fulfill her contract of service, contaminated by a co-employee, was a condition of the employment for Sexton and thus a risk of this employment for her,” the court said in its ruling.

Sexton attorney Christine DiMuzio Sorochen said her client is “very pleased with the result.”

The case now goes back to the lower court to determine whether Sexton is eligible for worker’s compensation.

Robert Malestein, a lawyer representing Cumberland County and the Cumberland Manor nursing home where Sexton worked, called the case unusual.

“If you tell people that this is a woman with a chronic medical condition who smells some perfume and gets sick, should people have to pay for that? But I guess the appellate division says they should,” Malestein said.

Sexton was 64 years old at the time of the incident. Since then, DiMuzio Sorochen said her client has been largely dependent on an oxygen tank to breathe and unable to work.

At the time of the incident, Sexton reported to a nurse’s station at her job complaining of breathing problems. She was hospitalized the next day, where she remained for nearly a month.

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