On January 18, 2022, New Jersey’s Supreme Court published a decision in the matter of Lapsley v. Twp. of Sparta, A-69/69-20 (Jan. 18, 2022), determining that an injury sustained by the plaintiff on a parking lot adjacent to her place of work was a “compensable” injury in the state’s workers’ compensation system – and thus, was not able to be raised in a liability action due to the “exclusive remedy” provision in New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”).
The plaintiff was a librarian employed by the Township of Sparta in the Sparta Public Library. The library is situated in a municipal complex with athletic fields, offices, and three common-use parking lots which are used by the Township and by the general public. The Township did not require plaintiff to use these parking lots. On February 3, 2014, she closed the library early due to a snowstorm, and her husband showed up at the library to pick her up, parking his vehicle in a parking lot adjacent to the library. As plaintiff walked from the library to the car, she stepped off of the curb, walked eighteen and a half feet in the parking lot, and was struck by a snowplow owned by the Township and operated by a Township employee.
Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the Township for personal injuries, which the Township sought to dismiss, contending that it was barred by the “exclusive remedy” provision of the Act. The trial court denied the motion, and plaintiff thereafter filed her own motion for summary judgment, seeking an order that her injuries were not “compensable” under the Act. The Defendants cross-moved to stay the matter, and to transfer it to the Division of Workers’ Compensation to make a determination of compensability. Plaintiff then filed her own petition for workers’ compensation against the Township. The Division of Workers’ Compensation found the injuries compensable under the Act, and the Appellate Division reversed, finding the injuries non-compensable.
On certification, the Supreme court noted firstly that the Act provides compensation for injuries to employees in accidents “arising out of and in the course of [their] employment,” and that the Act is the “exclusive remedy for an employee who suffers a work-related injury” in the vast majority of circumstances. The Court then applied the “premises rule” established in 1979 amendments to the Act. “The premises rule is based on the notion that an injury to an employee that happens going to or coming from work arises out of and in the course of employment if the injury takes place on the employer’s premises.” Kristiansen v. Morgan, 153 N.J. 298 (1988). The 1979 amendments to the act provide 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.” N.J.S.A. § 34:15-36. Thus, the “premises rule” considers the following factors: (1) where was the situs of the accident, and (2) did the employer have control of the property on which the accident occurred. Kristiansen, supra, 153 N.J. at 316-17. Finding that the site of the accident was the parking lot adjacent to the library, and that the defendant/employer Township controlled that parking lot through its ownership and maintenance, the Court ruled that the plaintiff’s injuries were compensable. This ruling vindicated the defendant/employer’s position that the injury should be addressed by workers’ compensation, rather than by a liability suit.
For more information on this topic, or on premises liability in New Jersey more generally, please contact the author, Tom Emala, at (973) 822-1110 or at email@example.com.