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Injury in Elevator of Multi-Tenant Building Found Not Compensable

By on June 6, 2013 in Compensability with 0 Comments

Petitioner Valerie Pyles worked for respondent The Mentor Network as a therapist in the Somerset, N.J. office.   Her office was on the third floor of a four-story office building.  She generally took one of the building’s two elevators from the lobby to the third floor to get to her office.

On the accident date, Pyles drove to the office, parked and entered the main lobby of the building.  She then stepped into one of the elevators.  While entering the elevator, her forward foot slid into the elevator, causing her to spin and fall, leading to neck, left wrist and low back injuries.

The Mentor Network, with about 140 employees, was one of 14 or 15 companies in the building.  The company leased 18% of the building’s rentable space.  There were no designated parking areas for The Mentor Network’s employees, except for five or six parking spaces reserved for the leadership team.  The company did not maintain the parking lots since the lease placed that responsibility on the landlord. Further, the company did not tell employees how to enter the building or go to the third floor.

Under the terms of the lease, the landlord was responsible for maintaining the elevators.  Respondent was required to pay as additional rent a proportionate share of operational expenses, where were defined as “those expenses paid or incurred by the Landlord for maintaining, operating and repairing the building and property. . . “

Under N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, employment begins when the employee arrives at an area of employment under control of the employer.  Pyles argued in her claim petition that the elevator was under the respondent’s control.  The Honorable Arcides Cruz, Judge of Compensation, reviewed the terms of the lease and the case law and found that the case was not compensable because there was no proof that the employer controlled the elevator.  In fact, there were over a dozen other tenants in the building.  The Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal of the case.

This decision is consistent with the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Statute.  In effect, in multi-tenant buildings an employee is not “at work” until he or she arrives at the office where the employer performs its work.  Common areas like lobbies and elevators are not controlled by the employer; thus accidents in those areas are not covered.  A different outcome would apply if the employer owned the parking or maintained the parking lot or the building at issue.

This case can be found at Pyles v. The Mentor Network, A-4071-11T1 (App.Div. 2013).

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This blog article was researched and written by John H. Geaney, Esq.a member of the executive committee and equity partner at the law firm of Capehart Scatchard. The content of the this article is intended to provide general information on the topic presented, and is offered with the understanding that the author is not rendering any legal or professional services or advice. This article is not a substitute for legal advice. Should you require such services, retain competent legal counsel.

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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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