Client: Camden Board of Social Services
Case tried by Stephen T. Fannon, Esq.
Petitioner, a security guard, filed a claim alleging that on October 1, 2009, he slipped and fell on a sidewalk at an entranceway, resulting in numerous orthopedic injuries. Respondent denied the allegations of petitioner’s claim on the grounds that petitioner fell while on his way to work on a public sidewalk that was neither owned nor controlled by respondent. Respondent filed a Motion to Dismiss with Prejudice under the “Premises Rule.” Petitioner’s attorney filed an opposition to respondent’s Motion on April 1, 2011. The court agreed to bifurcate the case to hear testimony on the issue of whether the subject sidewalk could be considered part of respondent’s premises under N.J.S.A. 34:15-36.
Petitioner’s place of employment was the Aletha Wright County Administration Building, located at 600 Market Street in Camden, New Jersey. Other county agencies and offices occupied the administration building, including respondent, at the time of the accident. The building is large and occupies an entire city block. The building has two entrances, one on 6th Street and the other on Broadway. At trial, petitioner testified that on the date of the accident he was to report to work at 7:00 a.m. and had parked his car in a public parking lot. After parking the car, and while walking from his car to the 6th Street entrance, he tripped and fell on the sidewalk outside of the Administration building, of which respondent was a tenant. Petitioner confirmed that he fell at approximately 6:50 a.m., prior to the start of his shift, prior to him entering the building and prior to him being assigned his security post for the day.
Petitioner and a former security guard testified that respondent’s clients would often line up at the door of the building. Petitioner introduced photographs depicting a long line of people outside the building. However, further testimony revealed this picture was taken during an isolated incident; Hurricane Irene, which occurred years after the alleged date of accident. Petitioner and the security guard also testified that part of their daily duties and employment functions involved patrolling the sidewalk surrounding the administration building, controlling the lines outside of the building and walking employees outside to their cars.
Respondent offered the testimony of the Assistant Administrator for the Board of Services and the Board’s Chief of Security. Both witnesses confirmed the picture presented by petitioner was from Hurricane Irene, a once in a lifetime disaster situation, and that it had occurred years after the alleged date of accident. Chief Montes testified that the daily patrol or security enforcement for the sidewalk areas was the responsibility of guards employed by City Hall or the Camden City Police Department, and the security officers for respondent were not assigned to patrol outside the building. Both witnesses offered testimony that clearly documented that security guards for respondent did not exercise control of the sidewalk. Both witnesses supported the notion that guards were not only instructed to maintain the security of solely the building interior, but also that they had no reason to go outside, as there were never any crowds or lines, which was documented by photos taken by respondent and offered into evidence. Furthermore, the Chief of Security testified that walking employees out to their cars was never a daily activity of a security guard employed by respondent.
At the conclusion of the trial, both sides submitted legal briefs. Prior to deciding the case, the Judge of Compensation inquired regarding possible settlement. Petitioner’s attorney’s settlement demand was $100,000.00. Respondent declined. Respondent highlighted that petitioner’s injury was not compensable as it occurred on his way to work, on a public sidewalk over which respondent, a tenant in the County-owned building, held no control whatsoever. The Judge agreed with respondent and found that the Chief of Security provided the most consistent and credible testimony during trial. The Judge ultimately ruled respondent neither patrolled nor controlled this public sidewalk. Based on same, the Judge held that petitioner failed to sustain his burden of proof and found petitioner’s injury was not compensable on the grounds that his injury did not occur during the course and scope of his employment. Therefore, his recovery was barred under N.J.S.A. 34:15-36.