• A Judge of Compensation’s Extreme Interpretation of the Premises Rule Withstands Appellate Division Review
  • March 28, 2014 | Author: Dario J. Badalamenti
  • Law Firm: Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. - Roseland Office
  • Burdette v. Harrah’s Atlantic City, Docket No. A-4797-12T1, 2014 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 114 (App. Div., decided 1/17/14)

    The petitioner was employed as a blackjack dealer with the respondent casino. On September 19, 2012, after completing her shift, the petitioner obtained her vehicle from the respondent’s parking garage, drove along the respondent’s internal driveway, passed through the respondent’s security gate, and proceeded to make a lawful left turn onto MGM Mirage Boulevard, a three-lane public highway. As the petitioner’s vehicle entered MGM Mirage Boulevard, it was struck by another vehicle, which collided directly with the petitioner’s driver’s-side door. At the moment of impact, the petitioner’s vehicle was located on MGM Mirage Boulevard, but was still partly over the defendant’s driveway apron.

    The petitioner filed a claim with the Division of Workers’ Compensation for injuries sustained as a result of her motor vehicle accident. The respondent denied the petitioner’s claim and filed a simultaneous motion to dismiss, asserting that the petitioner was not in the course of her employment at the time of her accident. At the conclusion of the trial, and having indicated that he reviewed a videotape recording of the accident, read the police report prepared following the incident, and made multiple trips to the scene of the accident, the Judge of Compensation held that:

    The petitioner’s vehicle after the collision [exited] the parking lot, but not completely. There is approximately one foot in length of petitioner’s car still in the area of the parking lot controlled by Harrah’s. [T]he petitioner’s car was still, no matter how little or how much, still in the respondent’s parking lot and by applying the [Livingstone v. Abraham & Straus, Inc., 111 N.J. 89 (1988)] case, that equals that petitioner was still in her course of employment with Harrah’s in accordance with N.J.S.A. 34:15-7.

    The respondent appealed the Judge of Compensation’s ruling, asserting that he misapplied the so-called Premises Rule - i.e., N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, which provides in relevant part 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 respondent contended that the Judge’s decision was erroneous as it was based on the disposition of the vehicle at the time of the incident, rather than the location where the vehicles impacted and where the petitioner’s injuries were sustained. According to the respondent, as the point of impact and physical injuries occurred on MGM Mirage Boulevard and not within the physical limits of the respondent’s premises, there could be no finding of compensability.

    In affirming the Judge’s ruling, the Appellate Division relied on Kristiansen v. Morgan, 153 N.J. 298 (1998), in which the Court acknowledged that the Premises Rule limits recovery to injuries that occur on the employer’s premises by confining the term “in the course of employment” to the physical limits of the employer’s premises. However, the court is Kristiansen also reasoned that the legislature used the phrase “excluding areas not under the control of the employer” in its definition of employment to include within the definition areas controlled by the employer but not necessarily within the physical limits of the employer’s premises. As the Appellate Division in the instant case reasoned:

    The circumstances of the present case plainly reveal that Burdette never fully left her own employer’s premises. Although her vehicle was in the midst of navigating a left turn onto a public thoroughfare, the exact spot where Burdette suffered injuries was neither remote from, or unconnected to, her work premises. The inextricable connection between Harrah’s premises and the collision would render a parting of the accidental injuries from compensability an unjust result.