The Appellate Court in Diane Lapsely v. Township of Sparta and Sparta Public Library et. al. A-0958-19T3, held that the employer’s control of the employee’s use of the parking lot would determine whether it was compensable under the Premises Rule.

The Petitioner, Diane Lapsley, was a librarian for Sparta Township in New Jersey. The library was located within the municipal complex that shared the parking lot with other municipal offices and a baseball field. The parking lot was free to use by all Township employees and the general public without designated spots for the employees. In fact, the library employees were not instructed on where to park or the manner of ingress or egress from the library. 

 After leaving work, the petitioner and her husband walked into the adjacent parking lot owned by Sparta Township and were struck by a snowplow driven by a Township Public Work employee. Petitioner sustained injuries and filed suit in the Law Division. Sparta Township contested the filing in the Law division with several motions seeking that the claim be transferred to the Division of Worker’s Compensation. Accordingly, the petitioner also filed a claim petition in the Division of Worker’s Compensation to toll the statute of limitations. The Trial Court stayed the civil litigation to allow the Division of Worker’s Compensation to resolve the compensability issue. The Compensation Judge found that the petitioner’s injuries were compensable under the Worker’s Compensation Act. The Compensation Judge further concluded that Sparta Township’s ownership, maintenance and right to control the parking lot was sufficient for the claim to fall under the Premises Rule. 

  The Premises Rule, NJSA 34:15-36 provides that:

 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 reversed the Compensation Judge’s decision on the basis that the employer did not control the employee’s use of the parking lot. Specifically, the Appellate Court found that the Premises Rule distinguishes between accidents that occur on the employer’s premises from those that do not. Ramos v. M&F Fashions 154 NJ 583, 591 (1998). The phrase “excluding areas not under the control of the employer” was intended to expand the premises beyond the four walls of the office. 

However, the Court in Kristiansen v. Morgan, 153 NJ 298, 316-317 (1997), established the test for Premises Rule: (1) the location of the property and (2) whether the employer had control of the location. In Novis v. Rosenbluth 138 NJ 92, 96 (1994), the Supreme Court, noted that the employer had not exercised any degree of control over its employee’s use of the common-use parking lot that was shared with other tenants. Thus, the Court, in Novis, found that because the employer lacked control over the employee’s use of the parking lot, the employee’s injury was non-compensable under the Worker’s Compensation Act. Id.

Hence, the critical factor in Worker’s Compensation parking lot cases is the degree of control the employer exercises over the employee’s use of the lot. Use of a shared parking lot without specific instructions from an employer is not sufficient to satisfy the Premises Rule. 

In this matter, even though the Township owned the parking lot adjacent to the library, the library’s use of the lot was not specific enough to meet the test for the Premises Rule. Here, the parking lot was shared with other township employees, and the general public without designations. Therefore, the Appellate Court concluded that the petitioner’s employer did not exercise control over its employee’s use of the parking lot. Once the library employee, clocked out and exited the library premises, she embarked on her normal commute home. Thus, her injuries are not compensable under the Worker’s Compensation Act. 

The Court stated that “to conclude that the petitioner’s injuries would be compensable on any town-owned lot…would be an unwarranted and overbroad expansion of the public-entity’s exposure for Worker’s Compensation claims under the Act.” Accordingly, the matter was remanded. 

The petitioner will have her day in court, but most likely, in the Civil Division.

This article was prepared to provide information on recent legal developments of interest and is in no way intended to provide legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship. All Rights Reserved.