Teacher Found Still In Employment When Injured After Picking Up Child At School Where Teacher Worked

Workers’ compensation issues often arise in the context of civil litigation. That is what happened in the case of High v. Rose, A-2539-09T1 (App. Div. July 26, 2011).

Toni Lee High worked as a nurse at Montclair Kimberley Academy. On the day of the accident High was supervising children entering school buses at the Academy after their dismissal at 2:45 p.m. She remained on the school property, however, for another hour and a half because she was assisting another teacher. During the same afternoon, defendant Dana Rose was teaching at the Academy. She finished her teaching duties, attended a faculty meeting, and then at 4:15 p.m. picked up her son who attended the school’s pre-kindergarten after-school care program.

The accident happened in the parking lot. High concluded her assistance with a teacher and started walking to her car. At the same time, Rose put her son in the car seat and commenced to back out of the parking space, only to strike High just as she was walking behind her vehicle. High obtained workers’ compensation benefits and then sued Rose in civil court. The defense carrier moved to dismiss the law suit on the grounds of the exclusive remedy provision.

The general rule in New Jersey is that injuries in employer-owned parking lots are considered on-premises injuries. In this case, plaintiff High argued that Rose was not in the course of her employment because all she was doing was picking up her son. For High to proceed on her civil action, she had to persuade the judge that Rose’s employment essentially ended when she left the faculty meeting. Obviously, co-employees cannot bring a civil suit against each other due to the exclusive remedy provision.

The trial judge and the appellate court disagreed with plaintiff High. Both courts found that Rose was still acting as an employee when the accident took place. The Appellate Division found that enrolling a child in a pre-kindergarten class at one’s place of employment constitutes a mutual benefit to the employer and the employee. The court said that just because someone is off the clock does not mean that the person loses protection under workers’ compensation.

“An employer’s parking lot is part of the employment premises, and an employee entering or using the lot is in the course of employment.” In response to plaintiff’s argument, the court said, “We reject plaintiff’s argument that defendant ceased being in the course of her employment after she picked up her child from the after-school care program operated at Brookside. The child was attending the after-school program so that plaintiff could complete her teaching duties.” Since defendant was still in employment, the plaintiff could not bring a civil suit against her and was limited to her remedy in the Division of Workers’ Compensation.

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