New Jersey Supreme Court Denies Employee’s Third-Party Claim against Township of Sparta
On January 18, 2022, the New Jersey Supreme Court reviewed and rectified a decision of the Appellate Division. The Court held that the injuries sustained in a parking lot that is owned and controlled by the employer were compensable. Lapsley v. Twp. of Sparta, No. A-68-2020 (N.J. Jan. 18, 2022) The Court dismissed the third-party claim filed by the injured worker against the Township of Sparta.
On February 03, 2014, the petitioner left her work early as the Township closed the library where she worked due to snowfall. The petitioner’s husband came to pick her up and they were walking to his car which was parked in a lot adjacent to the library. The petitioner was struck by a snowplow owned by the Township and operated by its employees. The incident caused severe injuries to the petitioner’s leg which resulted in multiple surgeries.
Petitioner was a librarian for the Sparta Public Library, which is located in a municipal complex with athletic fields, offices, and three common-use parking lots. Township, the employer, owns and maintains the parking lots. Although Township did not direct the employees where to park, it also did not restrict the employees’ manner of traveling between the parking lots and the library.
The petitioner, therefore, filed a civil lawsuit, instead of a workers’ compensation claim, against the Township. However, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) held that the injuries were caused of and during the course of employment and were, therefore, compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act. In doing so, the third party had to be dismissed since the Township and the co-employee (driver of the tow truck) would be immune from suit. The Appellate Division reversed the finding of the WCK and found that the injuries were not compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act.
In reviewing the Appellate Court’s decision, the Court noted that the site where the accident took place was a parking lot situated adjacent to the petitioner’s job site at the library, and there was no dispute that the Township controlled the parking lot through ownership and maintenance. Also, plowing of the parking lot of snow upon the instructions of Township when the accident occurred further demonstrated and emphasized the Township’s exercise of control over the parking lot. Thus, based on these facts, the Court had no difficulty in finding that the petitioner was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits as her injuries arose out of and during the course of her employment. The Court rejected the petitioner’s argument that the employer exercised no control over the parking lot, in order to get the third party claim. The Court instead said that there was no dispute over the fact that the employer exercised control over the parking lot.
It was quite clear that the petitioner chose to file a third-party claim against the co-employee as it was far more lucrative than the worker’s compensation claim. However, since the employer-owned and maintained the parking lot, the third-party claim had to be dismissed.
Research and Writing By: Team Draft n Craft
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