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Saturday, January 30, 2021

Premises Rule Sustained: Shared Parking Lot Injury Held Non-Compensable

Petitioner Diane Lapsley appealed from an order of a judge of compensation concluding that injuries she sustained in a February 3, 2014 accident arose out of and in the course of her employment as a Sparta Township librarian pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act), N.J.S.A. 34:15-1 to -146. 

After clocking out and exiting the library premises, petitioner was struck by a snowplow in an adjacent parking lot that happened to be owned by the township. The compensation judge concluded that petitioner's injuries were compensable pursuant to the premises rule, N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, which provides that "[e]mployment 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 . . . .”

The court held that a mechanical application of the premises rule in the context of a public-entity employer deviates from well-settled principles applicable to private employers and invites an overbroad and unwarranted expansion of public-entity liability for workers' compensation claims. The court identified employer-directed control of an employee's use of a parking lot as a critical element in the application of the premises rule. See Novis v. Rosenbluth, 138 N.J. 92, 93 (1994). An injury will be compensable if it is sustained while the employee is using the lot where the manner of ingress or egress is dictated by the employer, or in an area where the employee parks at the employer's direction. Conversely, use of a shared parking lot that accommodates multiple tenants, without specific instruction from an employer, is not sufficient to satisfy to the premises rule.

The stipulated facts of this case established that petitioner's employer exercised no control of its employee's use of the common-use parking lot. Petitioner was off-the-clock at the time of the accident and had exited the library premises. Library employees were not given any instructions about where in the subject lot to park or indeed whether to park in that particular lot, on the street, or anywhere else in town where parking may be available. Nor were library staff instructed on the manner of ingress or egress. The lot was shared with other municipal employees and members of the public alike.

Under these facts, the court concluded that there was no reasoned basis to depart from the general rule that the library's "use" of the common-use parking lot for its employees' benefit was not sufficient to satisfy the premises rule. Accordingly, the court reversed the compensation judge's order finding the accident was compensable.

DIANE S. LAPSLEY VS. TOWNSHIP OF SPARTA, ET AL. DOCKET NO. A-0958-19T3 2021 WL 297822 Decided January 29, 2021 (NJ App DIV 2021) Approved for Publication

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Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman  1.973.696.7900  has been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.

Blog: Workers ' Compensation

Twitter: jongelman

LinkedIn: JonGelman

LinkedIn Group: Injured Workers Law & Advocacy Group

Author: "Workers' Compensation Law" West-Thomson-Reuters