New Jersey’s appellate court affirmed a ruling that an employee who got injured in a traffic accident while driving out of her employer’s premises is entitled to worker’s compensation benefits.
The court documents showed that approximately one foot in length of the employee’s car was still within the employer’s driveway’s apron when the collision took place. The appellate court issued its decision on Jan. 17.
The documents show that on Sept. 19, 2012, Carla Burdette, a casino dealer at Harrah’s Atlantic City, completed her shift at 10 p.m., proceeded to her 2003 Ford Explorer in Harrah’s parking yard, drove through the internal driveway and made a lawful left turn to drive on MGM Mirage Boulevard, a three-lane public highway.
But as the employee entered MGM Mirage Boulevard, a Toyota Camry collided with the Explorer, directly striking the Explorer’s driver door. The subsequent police-created accident report and images from security cameras showed that at the point of impact, the claimant’s car was located partially on MGM Mirage Boulevard, but was also still partly over Harrah’s driveway’s apron.
Documents show that in October 2012, the claimant filed a workers’ comp claim petition with the state’s Division of Workers’ Compensation, asserting injuries to her head, neck, back, bilateral hands, bilateral shoulders and left knee. But in January 2013, Harrah’s filed its answer denying responsibility for the claim. It also filed a motion to dismiss. In February 2013, the claimant filed a motion for temporary and medical benefits.
In May 2013, a judge for the Division of Workers’ Compensation ruled in favor of Burdette. The judge said the only issue for the court to decide is whether the claimant was still “in the course of her employment with Harrah’s when the accident occurred.”
After reviewing a video recording of the accident and the police report and visiting the scene of the accident, the judge concluded that Burdette’s car had exited the parking lot, but not completely. There was approximately one foot in length of the car still in the area of the parking lot controlled by Harrah’s at the time of the collision.
And because the car was still — no matter how little or how much — in the employers’ parking lot, that means the claimant was still in her course of employment with Harrah’s, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 34:15-7 in the state’s workers’ compensation law. The judge also applied the [Livingstone v. Abraham & Straus, Inc., 111 N.J. 89 (1988)] case to establish that the parking lots owned, maintained, or provided by employers were appropriately considered part of the employer’s premises. In May 2013, order for medical and temporary disability benefits was entered.
On appeal, however, Harrah’s argued that the judge from the Division of Workers’ Compensation “misapplied the premises rule” in the state’s N.J.S.A. 34:15-36 by basing the decision on the disposition of the vehicle rather than the place where the accidental injuries actually occurred.
Harrah’s contended that the claimant’s accidental injuries occurred on MGM Mirage Boulevard, not within the physical limits of Harrah’s premises, and thus are not compensable.
But the appellate court disagreed with Harrah’s argument. The court noted that entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits is controlled by the premises rule in the statute N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, which provides that the 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.”
The appellate court also said the state legislature used the phrase “excluding areas not under the control of the employer” in its definition of employment because it intended to include areas controlled by the employer within the definition. That phrase was intended to make clear that the premises rule can entail more than the four walls of an office or plant in the formal property law sense, the appellate court said.
The circumstances of the case plainly reveal that the claimant “never fully left her employer’s premises,” the appellate court said. Although her car was in the midst of navigating a left turn onto a public thoroughfare, the exact spot where she suffered injuries was neither remote from, nor unconnected to, her work premises, the court said.
“We reject Harrah’s ultra-rigid approach that focuses only on the colliding vehicles’ point of impact and the front seat location of Burdette in her Explorer,” the appellate court said in its ruling.
The appellate court said that, by applying common sense and the policies inherent in the state’s workers’ compensation law, it agrees with the viewpoint of the Division of Workers’ Compensation that the injuries suffered were a result of the claimant’s “firm attachment to her place of employment, albeit while on her way home.” The fact that the public also used the northwest travel lanes of MGM Mirage Boulevard does not change the result, the appellate court said.
The case is Carla Burdette v. Harrah’s Atlantic City, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, Jan. 17, 2014. (appeal from the state’s Division of Workers’ Compensation, Department of Labor, Claim Petition No. 2012-27907.)