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Court Finds Joint Employment for Golf Course Superintendent and Applies “Bunkhouse Rule” in Holding Injury at Residence to Be Compensable

By on September 15, 2014 in Compensability with 0 Comments

Eric Hanisko worked as a superintendent of a 120-acre golf course in West Windsor, N.J.  He accepted a written offer of employment in February 2008 on behalf of BCGM, a corporation specializing in golf course management, and CGC, the owner of the golf club.  His employment package included housing at the club.

On April 11, 2009, Hanisko fractured his ankle slipping and falling on what he described as a defectively-constructed wooden step in his residence.  The accident occurred in the early morning hours in the second-floor bathroom of Hanisko’s residence on the golf course. He filed a civil complaint against CGC for negligence.  Initially, CGC did not raise the workers’ compensation bar as a defense.

Two months later, Hanisko filed a claim petition in the Division of Workers’ Compensation against BCGM, which opposed the claim petition, arguing that the injury did not arise from work.

After discovery concluded in the civil case, CGC moved for summary judgment, contending that the law suit was barred by the exclusive remedy rule.  Essentially, CGC and BCGM argued that they were joint employers of Hanisko, and he could sue neither company civilly.  Hanisko argued that this defense had been waived by CGC because it was not raised until summary judgment.   Plaintiff also argued that the two employers took differing positions in the workers’ compensation case and the civil case and should be estopped from denying responsibility under the civil law suit.  The trial judge disagreed and granted summary judgment to CGC.

The Appellate Division noted that it was not inconsistent for CGC to argue in the civil case that it was petitioner’s employer and for BCGM to argue in the workers’ compensation case that the injury did not arise from work.  However, the Court reviewed the “bunkhouse rule,” which states that when residence is provided to an employee, generally an injury sustained by an employee while using such residence is incidental to employment.  The Court noted that although Hanisko was not required to live on the golf course property, his living there was of mutual benefit to the parties.  He paid no rent or utilities, except cable, and his full-time presence there was of benefit to his employer.  “That the lodging was meant to make the prospect of employment at the club more attractive is supported by the written offer of employment, which featured this benefit.”

The Court also stated that an employer cannot waive assertion of the workers’ compensation bar because jurisdiction is always an issue.  “Subject matter jurisdiction, as the Act’s exclusivity provisions implicate, is a non-waivable defense, which can be raised at any time.”

The Court concluded that Hanisko had two employers:  CGC and BCGM.  CGC paid his salary of $1,730 biweekly, and BCGM provided his benefits.  CGC provided significant control over Hanisko’s activities because he had to report directly to a CGC manager on a day-to-day basis. The manager, Ms. Suozzo, would walk the golf course with Hanisko and others and check on course conditions.  She would ensure that Hanisko and others were doing their job correctly.  Even though Hanisko would report also to BCGM’s regional manager, he would only meet with him monthly.  Suozzo met with Hanisko more often than the BCGM regional manager, and Suozzo extended the offer to Hanisko to “join the team at BCGM and CGC.”

This case has been reported and can be found at Hanisko v. Billy Casper Golf Management, Inc. and Cranbury Golf Club, LLC, A-5053-12T4 (App. Div. September 8, 2014).

 

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About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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