In an important decision, the New Jersey Appellate Division decided on October 16, 2019 that a nurse who was walking from work premises to a parking lot following her shift at Jersey City Medical Center/ RWJBH was not in the course of employment when she was struck by a motor vehicle. Christina Adinolfi Shea, partner with Capehart Scatchard, won the trial before the Honorable Lionel Simon, Judge of Compensation, and then argued and won the appeal. Caroline Yount, Esq., assisted on both briefs.
Emily Manuel worked as a nurse for Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health (RWJBH) and was seriously injured when struck by a motor vehicle using a public crosswalk. She sustained hip and pelvic fractures, a concussion and other injuries. She finished her shift at 7 p.m. and then walked across the street to the parking lot where she normally parked. She filed a workers' compensation claim contending that her injury on Jersey Avenue was covered under workers' compensation because she was walking from work premises to an alleged employer controlled parking lot. RWJBH denied the claim from the outset and argued that the case was governed by the Supreme Court decision in Hersh v. County of Morris, 217 N.J. 236 (2014). RWJBH denied that it controlled the parking area, nor maintained that area. The PIP carrier also joined in the case seeking reimbursement for approximately $150,000 of medical bills it paid to Ms. Manuel.
The factual background on the parking lot is critical to appreciate. In 2010 RWJBH made on-site parking unavailable to non-essential employees and offered these employees parking in the Marina Lot located across the street from the hospital. That lot was owned by Assured Resource Management, LLC. (hereinafter Assured). RWJBH rented 158 parking spots in the 450-space Marina Lot and paid Assured $13,000 monthly for these parking spots. RWJBH made a biweekly payroll deduction from the employees who were authorized to park in the Marina Lot, such as Manuel, to cover the lease costs. Employees had to submit an application for permission to park in the lot.
RWJBH provided an optional shuttle service to transport hospital employees from the Marina Lot to the hospital's entrance. Those employees who did not use the shuttle could walk across Jersey Avenue by means of a public crosswalk. RWJBH did not control the means of ingress and egress from the Marina Lot to the hospital.
Under the terms of the lease, RWJBH issued parking passes to employees who parked in the Marina Lot. The hospital designated those employees who were permitted to park there. The hospital reserved the right to provide an on-site traffic director during morning and evening rush hours, but the hospital never actually posted a traffic director on the site because it would have needed municipal approval. RWJBH had no control over snow removal, repairs or maintenance of the Marina Lot. Employees of RWJBH could park in the streets near the hospital, in another lot known as the ED lot (owned by RWJBH) or in the hospital's visitors' spots for a fee.
The Hon. Lionel Simon heard the testimony of petitioner and a witness for RWJBH and found that the injury was not compensable for the following reasons:
While there was language in the lease agreement that allowed RWJBH to exercise limited control of the parking garage, the garage owners actually exercised daily control and maintenance of the garage.
Manuel was injured on a public street not under the control of RWJBH.
Manuel was not directed to park in the Marina Lot.
Manuel could have used the shuttle bus but chose not to do so.
Petitioner appealed as did the PIP carrier. The Appellate Division found that this case was controlled by the decision in Hersh. Both cases involved injuries on public streets, and both involved situations where the employer did not own the parking lots in question, nor control the lots. Further, in neither case could the injured worker prove that that the employer derived a direct business benefit from facilitating employee parking in the garage. In Hersh, the County paid for the parking lot but in this case, the employees ultimately paid for the parking by payroll deduction. Both cases also involved no special hazard in crossing the street. Many other employees crossed the street who parked elsewhere. The Court said, “Here, there are sufficient credible facts to show that RWJBH lacked control over the crosswalk used by Manuel, and the Marina Lot, and therefore, her injuries are not compensable under the premises rule. Furthermore, Manuel's injuries resulted from a vehicular accident that occurred on a public roadway over which RWJBH had no control.”
The Appellate Division specifically affirmed the reasoning of Judge Simon to the effect that the hospital did not require its employees to park in the Marina Lot, and in fact, petitioner declined to use the shuttle service and could have availed herself of other parking options.
The case is an important one in that it shows the strength of the decision in Hersh. Further, the Court found that it did not ultimately matter that the lease agreement had some language about potential hospital control through a traffic director since the hospital never actually appointed a traffic director in the first place.
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