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An employer's "premises" defined: employee parking lot injuries and the premises rule.

January 1, 2011
Hope v. Eberle & BCI Services, LLC, Docket No. A-0617-09T2, 2010 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2263 (App. Div., decided September 15, 2010)

The petitioner was employed as a cook for the respondent, which provided food services pursuant to a government contract at Fort Dix, an Army installation located in Burlington County, New Jersey. After clocking out on December 21, 2008, the petitioner walked to her car, which was parked in a lot adjacent to the building in which she worked. The parking lot in question was owned and maintained by the United States government and was used by military personnel, vendor employees, and other civilians with clearance to be on the base. As the petitioner approached her car, she slipped and fell on a patch of ice in the parking lot, sustaining a blow to her head. The petitioner filed a claim with the Division of Workers' Compensation. The judge of compensation found that her injuries were not compensable as "[respondent] did not control [petitioner] during the parking process." Accordingly, the petitioner's claim was dismissed, and the petitioner appealed. In affirming the judge of compensation's ruling, the Appellate Division undertook an examination of the so-called "premises rule" of the New Jersey Workers' Compensation Act, as well as the relevant Supreme Court decisions which illustrate the rule's application. The premises rule, N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, was established by the 1979 legislative amendments to the Act and limits recovery to injuries which occur on the employers' premises. Under this provision: "Employment shall be deemed to commence when an employee arrives at the employer's place of employment to report for work and shall terminate when the employee leaves the employer's place of employment, excluding areas not under the control of the employer." In Kristiansen v. Morgan, 153 N.J. 298 (1998), the Supreme Court discussed the legislative intent of the premises rule. As the Legislature used the phrase "excluding areas not under the control of the employer" in its definition of employment, the Court concluded that the Legislature "intended to make clear that the premises rule can entail more than the four walls of an office or plant." The Supreme Court revisited the premises rule in Livingstone v. Abraham & Straus, Inc., 111 N.J. 89 (1988) and Novis v. Rosenbluth Travel, 138 N.J. 92 (1994). In Livingstone, injuries sustained by an employee in the parking lot of the Monmouth Mall while on her way to work were found to be compensable. As the Court explained, "Abraham & Straus had directed its employees to utilize a designated area of the mall parking lot and had thereby appropriated that area for the exclusive use of its employees." In the Court's view, this employer-designated area of the parking lot was "effectively equivalent to an employer-owned lot." In Novis, an employee was injured when she fell on the sidewalk while walking from an adjacent parking lot leading to the entrance of the office building in which her employer was located. The Supreme Court found the employee's injuries were not compensable. As "the employer exercised no control over any portion of the parking lot, and where it simply shared the lot with other tenants," the Court concluded, "employment did not commence before the employee fell on the sidewalk to the building." It was within the framework of the legislative intent of the premises rule, as well as the Supreme Court's interpretation of the rule in comparable circumstances, that the Appellate Division in the instant case affirmed the judge of compensation's dismissal of the petitioner's claim. As the Appellate Division reasoned: "The accident occurred beyond the employer's place of business, in a parking lot available for common use of military personnel and civilians on the base. [Respondent] did not direct its employees to utilize any particular available spaces. There was no appropriation by [respondent] of any portion of the parking lot, comparable to the situation presented in Livingstone, and there is no indication that [respondent] had the capacity to exercise control over any portion of the lot." The Appellate Division concluded that absent credible evidence that the respondent exercised any control over the parking lot in which the petitioner was injured, there could be no finding that the petitioner's accident arose out of and in the course of her employment.

Case Law Alert - 1st Qtr 2011

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