In 2014, the Camden County Bar Association’s Workers’ Compensation Committee presented a seminar on the topic of commuting injuries in workers’ compensation cases. As co-chair of this committee, I was one of the speakers. This seminar focused on the Premises Rule and the many exceptions to that rule. The “Premises Rule” came about as the result of amendments to the workers’ compensation statute in 1979. This “Rule” basically stands for the proposition that employment commences when the employee arrives at the employer’s premises and ends when the employee leaves the employer’s premises at the end of the work shift. This rule by definition excludes areas that are not under the control of the employer. The intent of this rule was to eliminate the many exceptions that were carved out by the Court in commuting injuries prior to 1979.
However the state of the law now is that more exceptions have been carved out of the premises rule, and the Courts are once again regularly being asked to rule on commuting injuries.
For example, the new case of Kotler v. DCH Kay Honda focuses on a situation where a worker was severely injured on his way home from an emergency work shift. Mr. Kotler was called in to work by his employer on the day after Christmas, a Sunday, to move cars around in the Honda dealer’s lot because of an impending snow storm. The car dealer was always closed on Sundays, and Mr. Kotler was a sales person, not a car jockey. However he felt obligated to come in to help that Sunday because he was a new employee and was asked by his boss to come help move cars to get them out of the way of the storm. He did go in to help, but left after a few hours because it had started to snow, his own car was not good in the snow, and his boss gave him permission to leave. The governor ended up declaring a State of Emergency that day because of the snow, and Mr. Kotler’s car skidded on the way home causing significant injuries. The workers’ compensation Judge agreed with Mr. Kotler, that he felt “compelled” by his boss to be at work that day, and thus the commute home should be covered under the workers’ compensation act. On appeal, the Appellate Division found that this accident was just like any other commute home and held that it was not covered under the workers’ compensation act. Mr. Kotler appealed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey and we are waiting to see if they will re-consider this case.
Another case along these lines is Sager v. O.A. Peterson Construction Co, which also went all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court. In the Sager case, the employee was working on a job site in New York City on 9/11/2001. The work crew could not return home to NJ because of 9/11, and the supervisor decided that his crew would find a place to go out to dinner and then return to the work site. While returning to the job site from dinner Mr. Sager was in a head-on collision and was injured. The Supreme Court held that Mr. Sager felt compelled to follow his supervisor’s orders to go to dinner and then return to work, and that his injury was covered under the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act.