Client: St. Barnabas Health
Trial Counsel: Christina M. Adinolfi Shea, Esq.
Capehart Scatchard recently prevailed at trial in the matter of Emily Manuel v. St. Barnabas. In that case the court bifurcated the trial to first address whether the injury sustained by the petitioner was due to an accident that arose out of the course and scope of her employment at St. Barnabas. The facts of the case were largely undisputed. On the evening of December 30, 2015 the petitioner was employed by the respondent as an emergency room nurse. The petitioner drove to work and parked at one of two adjacent lots across the street from the hospital where she worked. The two lots were owned by a private company and hospital employees had money taken out of their paychecks for the privilege of parking in the private lots. The petitioner chose to park in the lot and was provided a sticker to place on her vehicle. The sticker was provided by the hospital. There was a designated walkway and the lot had a sign posted indicating that parking was for hospital employees only. The petitioner testified that the majority of nurses parked in the two lots and the company who owned the lots provided shuttles from the hospital to the lots.
On the evening in question, after completing her shift, the petitioner left the hospital, walked off the property towards the private lots and began to cross the street to the lots within a crosswalk when she was hit by an oncoming car.
A member of the security team testified on respondent’s behalf that approximately half of the employees used the lots in questions, however, other places employees could park included metered parking, a visitor’s lot and a light rail system that services the hospital. He testified that the hospital leases spots in these lots directly from the parking lot owner with money being recouped out of the employees’ paychecks. He further testified that the hospital exercise no control over the lots and performed no maintenance or snow removal. Despite provisions in the contract concerning use of the lot by unauthorized vehicles and maintenance of the lot by the employer, the hospital never undertook any of these functions. However, the petitioner contended the existence of these functions in the lease allowed the respondent to control the lots, but they chose not to do so.
The primary issue before the court was whether the facts set forth fall within the purview of the Supreme Court decision Hersh v. County of Morris, or if they are distinguishable. In Hersh the Supreme Court found that the garage used by employees was not part of the premises of the employer, and significantly, the employer did not control the garage. It was neither owned nor maintained by the employer. “The employer derived no direct business interest from paying for employees to park in the garage. Most importantly, the accident occurred on a public street not under the control of the employer. In walking a few blocks from the garage to her workplace, Hersh did not assume any special or additional hazard.” The Hersh Court went on to state the following: When the legislature amended the Workers’ Compensation Act and added the phrase “excluding areas not under the control by the employer.” N.J.S.A. 34:5-36 intended to clarify that employers are liable for more than “just the four walls of an office or plant”, but the plain language of the act reveals it is not intended to expand the employer’s liability to publically owned areas not under direct control of the employer.
Applying the principles from Hersh the judge of compensation first concluded that the lot was not owned or maintained by the employer and although the lease agreement allowed the employer to exercise limited control of the parking garage, the garage owners actually exercised daily control and management of the garage. Second, the petitioner was injured on a public street not within the control of the respondent where the petitioner was directed not to cross. Third, the respondent provided an alternate means to get to the garage, namely a shuttle bus, however, the petitioner chose not to use it, but to walk to the garage.
Based upon the aforementioned reasons the trial court found the injuries sustained by the petitioner did not arise out of or in the course of her employment with the respondent. The petitioner has now filed an appeal of the trial judge’s decision. The appeal is presently pending before the New Jersey Superior Court’s Appellate Division.