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How Far Does Employer Liability Reach?

A recent case in the state Supreme Court explores the extent of workers’ compensation laws for injuries sustained on an employee’s way to the office, personal injury attorneys in New Jersey report. In Hersh v. County of Morris, the defendant was hit by a car while crossing the street from the private parking lot designated for employee parking to the office building in which she worked. The woman claims that because her employer had rented spaces in that specific lot, she had to cross the road, where she was injured, to get to work.  

Morris County administrative offices provide parking spaces in a county-owned facility directly adjacent to the administration building for staff members with seniority, but the defendant did not have enough seniority to obtain a space there. She was offered free parking at a privately owned lot two blocks away, in which the county rented several spaces for employee use. The case questions whether the parking lot and the path from that lot to the company’s premises can be considered the employer’s jurisdiction, in terms of safety and responsibility. Although the employer is motivating the employee’s actions in bringing them to the area for work, the state Supreme Court justices had differing opinions on whether that motivation made the employer liable for any safety issues in those areas. 

According to an amendment to the Workers’ Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, added in 1979, employment begins when the employee “arrives at the employer’s place of employment to report for work” and ends when he or she “leaves the employer’s place of employment, excluding areas not under the control of the employer.” Originally, lawyers for the defendant argued that she began working as soon as she parked her car. This places the parking lot, and walkways between the lot and the office, under the jurisdiction of the employer. 

But the county’s attorneys disagreed with this original ruling, and instead argued that the woman was still commuting, just like any other employee in the area, and had not yet reached her place of employment. The walkway to work is not the responsibility of her employer, and the workers’ comp judge’s original ruling was too expansive given the situation. No one forced the woman to park in that particular lot, or choose that pathway to get to the office, releasing the employer from liability. 

In a 1988 ruling in Livingston v. Abraham & Straus, the state Supreme Court allowed an employee who sustained injuries in a parking lot owned by his employer to file for workers’ compensation, because the company owned the lot, and had assigned the employee a parking space. The New Jersey Supreme Court has heard both arguments in this case, and justices are deliberating on the scope of an employer’s property and control over employees who commute to and from work. Hundreds of workers in the state commute to work every day, and use public parking lots near their office. This case will determine whether an employer can be held responsible for any accidents or incidents to commuters outside the office. 

At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our personal injury attorneys represent employees who have been injured on the job. If you need legal advice or consultation regarding your case, contact an HCK attorney today. 

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