NJ Parking Lot Proposal Could Have Major Impact on Workers’ Compensation Cases

Bruce Burk

Trenton, NJ (WorkersCompensation.com) – The New Jersey Legislature is considering legislation that would designate accidents which happen in employer parking lots to be within the course and scope of employment. The bill, S.B. 771, will change the state’s definition of employment in favor of injured workers.

The bill includes the following language:

“Employment shall also be deemed to commence, if an employer provides or designates a parking area for use by an employee, when an employee arrives at the parking area prior to reporting for work and shall terminate when an employee leaves the parking area at the end of a work period.”

The bill also says:

“if the site of the parking area is separate from the place of employment, an employee shall be deemed to be in the course of employment while the employee travels directly from the parking area to the place of employment prior to reporting for work and while the employee travels directly from the place of employment to the parking area at the end of a work period.”

The first section expanded the scope of compensable activity and move the starting line between when a case would become compensable to much earlier. The legislation invokes the ‘going and coming rule’ which says that typically, accidents which happen while the claimant is going to or coming from work are not compensable. With this bill, however, it is arguable that accidents would be covered the moment the claimant’s car enters the employer provided parking lot.

But all parking lots are not created equal. Oftentimes, employers share parking lots with other companies and it is difficult to identify which area of the parking lot is owned or controlled by the employer.

The second part mentioned above goes even further and says that not only is the employee in the course and scope of employment while they are on the parking lot, they remain in the course and scope of employment while traveling over the non-employer owned property between the parking lot and the employer’s premises.

Opponents of the law may say that the second portion goes too far and forces employers to insure against accidents when they have no control over the areas where the accident may occur. This could also increase workers’ comp related litigation, as any accidents that occur on these parking lot areas may also give rise to subrogation claims where third parties have to be sued as well.

This law, if passed, would likely increase the amount of parking lot cases in the Garden State. These cases are difficult because there often are no witnesses to the accident and a lack of surveillance video. If the law is passed, employers would be wise to adopt procedures to make parking lots safe and install cameras so they have evidence of any falls that happen on the premises. Another way employers may be able to get around this law is to provide transportation for the employees to and from work.

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