NJ workers are generally ineligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits for injuries which occur while going to or leaving the workplace. For example, a worker injured in a car or pedestrian accident while leaving the office would probably be ineligible for workers’ comp benefits because the accident did not occur during work. However, there are limited situations where injured workers may be eligible for workers’ benefits when leaving or going to work if the workers were injured while still on employers’ premises, such as a parking lot.
In a recent NJ worker’s comp case, Burdette v. Harrah’s Casino, the court allowed an employee to make a workers’ comp claim when he was injured when he pulled out of the employee parking lot.
The plaintiff (injured employee) was a card dealer at Harrah’s Casino in Atlantic City. She drove to work and parked her car in the Harrah’s Casino parking lot. On September 12, 2012, she was leaving work for the day. She drove along Harrah’s driveway, passed through a security gate and began to make a legal left turn onto the street. As she began to turn out of Harrah’s parking lot, she was hit by another car. Her car was partially on the city street and still in Harrah’s driveway/parking lot when her car was hit.
As a result of the car accident, the Harrah’s employee injured her head, neck, back, hands, shoulder and left knee. She filed for workers’ comp benefits, but her employer denied her workers’ comp claim.
The issue in the case was whether she was still in the course of her employment when the accident occurred. After reviewing a video of the accident and inspecting the scene of the accident, the judge concluded that part of plaintiff’s vehicle was in an area controlled by her employer, i.e., she was still in the driveway of Harrah’s parking lot. Because her vehicle was still on her employer’s property when the accident happened, she should receive workers’ comp benefits (medical and temporary disability benefits).
Even though employees are generally considered outside the course and scope of employment when going to and coming from work, they are deemed to be in the course of employment if an injury happens on the employer’s premises when reporting to and leaving work. This is known as the premises rule.
Harrah’s Casino appealed the case to the New Jersey Superior Court and argued that the judge misapplied the premises rule.
Harrah’s argued that the judge based his decision on the vehicle’s location, rather than the employee’s location. Though the back of the employee’s car was still in Harrah’s parking lot driveway, she herself was in the driver seat, which was in the public street.
The NJ Superior Court rejected the casino’s argument and found that Harrah’s argument was rigid in that it focused on the point of impact. The court held that the plaintiff never fully left Harrah’s premises when the car accident occurred and upheld the lower court’s decision to grant plaintiff workers’ compensation benefits for her injuries.
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