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In 2010, a New Jersey public employee working as a senior clerk for Morris County was struck by a motor vehicle on a public street while walking from a private parking garage to her workplace.
The New Jersey Supreme Court in 2014 ruled that the employee’s injuries were not compensable because they did not occur in an area under the county’s control.
That decision in Hersh v. County of Morris helped spur a new law that would eliminate such rulings in the future.
S.B. 771, which Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law on Jan. 10, states that if an employer “provides or designates a parking area for use by an employee,” employment commences when the employee arrives at the parking area before reporting to work.
“Parking lot issues are coming more and more to the forefront,” said Jeffrey Newby, partner at Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby LLP in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. “This new law is expanding coverage a bit more than employers are going to like.”
“Employers need to know that claims that happen in parking lots now will more often than not be compensable,” said Noah Dennison, partner at Goldberg Segalla LLP in Princeton, New Jersey.
The new amendment to the state workers compensation law says that “employment shall also be deemed to commence, if an employer provides or designates a parking area for use by an employee, when an employee arrives at the parking area prior to reporting for work and shall terminate when an employee leaves the parking area at the end of the work period.”
“My mantra for some of these cases in parking lots is 'no good deed goes unpunished,’” Mr. Newby said. “If the employer provides parking to their employees, basically, that employee better be safe from the time they park their car until they get into the front door because if they get injured anywhere in between — by another car, a flying shopping cart, a pothole, etc. — it's going to be work-related under this bill.”
“They may not have any control over that area, so there's no way to make it safe,” said Mark Setaro, Mount Laurel, New Jersey-based chairman of the workers compensation section of the New Jersey State Bar.
According to Mr. Setaro, an employer that does not wish to take on the risk of injury in areas that are well outside its control will either have to forgo making such parking arrangements or take steps to ensure the safety of its employees between such remote parking areas and the workplace.
Workers compensation claims will undoubtedly surge as a result of this law, “especially in multitenant parking lots,” Mr. Newby said, adding, “It’s going to open the floodgates of more compensable claims.”
“Petitioners attorneys were not scared of filing parking lot claims prior to the passage of this,” Mr. Dennison said. “We’ve seen a lot over the years, but I think this will just encourage them further to take more and more parking lot claims that may have been on the cusp of compensability before.”