While pulling out of her employer’s parking lot, an employee’s vehicle was hit by another car. The employee’s vehicle was partially in the street and still in the parking lot. Can the injured employee get workers’ comp? Carla Burdette was a dealer at Harrah’s casino in Atlantic City, NJ. On Sept. 19, 2012, as she was leaving for the day, Burdette drove her vehicle along Harrah’s driveway, passed through a Harrah’s security gate and started to make a legal left turn onto a city street.
As she did, another vehicle collided with hers, directly striking Burdette’s Ford Explorer’s driver door. When it was hit, Burdette’s vehicle was partially on the public street but still partly over Harrah’s driveway.
Burdette suffered injuries to her head, neck, back, hands, shoulders and left knee. She filed for workers’ comp benefits, and Harrah’s denied responsibility for her claim.
A judge heard her case and determined “the only issue that the Court must decide is whether petitioner was still in the course of her employment with Harrah’s when the accident occurred.”
The judge reviewed a video of the accident and where Burdette’s vehicle ended up after the crash, read the police report and made two trips to the scene.
After reviewing the evidence, the judge concluded that at the time of the collision, Burdette’s vehicle had exited the parking lot, but not completely. About one foot of her Explorer was still in the area of the parking lot controlled by Harrah’s.
Since Burdette’s vehicle was still partially (and barely) on Harrah’s property when it was struck, the judge awarded medical and temporary disability benefits.
Harrah’s appealed to the New Jersey Superior Court.
Does exact position of vehicle matter?
Harrah’s argued the judge had misapplied the premises rule because he based the decision on the location of the vehicle rather than the place where Burdette’s injury occurred.
The casino said its dealer shouldn’t receive workers’ comp benefits because at the moment of the crash, Burdette and the vehicle’s driver seat were located above the public street — only the back one foot of the vehicle was still over Harrah’s driveway.
For workers’ comp, New Jersey law says “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 premises rule says 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.
The appeals court noted Burdette never fully left Harrah’s premises when the crash occurred:
“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 the Explorer.
“Parking lots either owned, maintained, or operated by employers are properly considered part of the employer’s premises.”
For that reason, the appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision that Burdette should receive workers’ comp benefits for her injuries.
What do you think about the decision? Let us know in the comments.
(Burdette v. Harrah’s Atlantic City, Superior Crt. of NJ Appellate Div., No. A-4797-12T1, 1/17/14)