Neptune, NJ (WorkersCompensation.com) — Although an employer told employees not to park in a particular part of its parking lot, that did not stop one employee from doing so and, in the process, experiencing an injury.
Nonetheless, the court in Walker v. Saker Shop-Rite, No A-2770-19 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 09/07/21, unpublished) determined that the employee’s injury was compensable because the store had control over the lot where the worker’s injury occurred.
A 70-year-old grocery store worker tipped and fell when she stepped into a pothole as she walked to her car in a side area of the parking lot after completing a shift. An employee break area that had “a cabana type thing” where employees smoked was nearby.
Prior to the worker’s fall, the store told employees that it wanted them to park in a different part of the lot, but the worker continued to park in that location due to safety concerns. To that end, the worker had a conversation with an assistant manager explaining her rationale for parking where she did.
The store paid a maintenance fee to the landlaord for maintenance of the parking, and the lease agreement stated that the landlord “shall keep and maintain … the premises … in good condition and repair including but not limited to repairing and replacing pavement.” Later, the lease was amended to allow the store to complete paving repairs to the lot.
On the worker’s claim for benefits, a judge of compensation determined that the accident did not take place in an area under the store’s control. The worker appealed to court.
In New Jersey, entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits is controlled by the premises rule, which limits recovery to injuries that occur on an employer’s premises by confinig the term “course of employment” to the physical limits of the employer’s premises.
According to the court, the premises rule was no hurdle to the worker’s case.
“The accident occurred in the parking lot used by [the store’s] customers, employees, and vendors,” the court wrote. “[The worker] was walking to her car in the parking lot used by [the store] when she sustained her injury.”
The court pointed out that even though the landlord owned and was responsible for the condition of the lot, the fact that the store paid additional rent for maintenance indicated that the store had a level of control over the lot. Additionally, the lease amendment allowing the store to exercise control of the lot and do work necessary to repave it reflected the store’s control of the lot.
“The circumstances of the present case plainly reveal that [the worker] never left her employer’s premises,” the court wrote. “We conclude that [the worker]suffered a compensable injury and is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits because she was injured in the course of employment in an employer-controlled parking lot.”