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Is an Employee Injured in Workplace Parking Lot Covered Under Workers’ Compensation?

Feb 9, 2021 | Written by: Jacob A. Papay, Jr., Esq. |

If an employee is injured in his/her employer’s parking lot on the way to or from work, is the injury considered to be “during the course of employment” and therefore covered under workers’ compensation?  And since the Workers’ Compensation Act generally bars an employee from suing an employer or co-employee for negligently causing a work-related injury, would the employee be prevented from pursuing a civil suit? 

Based on a recent court case, this would depend upon the employer’s degree of control over the site of the accident and the employee’s use of that site.  

In Lapsley v. Township of Sparta, A0958-19T3 (App. Div. 2021), a Township library employee was injured by a Township snowplow while walking to her car parked in a Township parking lot after completing the workday. 

The employee served a Notice of Tort Claim and filed a civil suit against the Township for negligence.  The Township argued that the employee’s civil suit was barred by the Workers’ Compensation Act because the employee was still in the course of employment when the accident occurred.  The Township asserted that the employee had not left the work site because the accident occurred on property that the employee used for egress to and from the site of her employment with the Township, and that property was owned and controlled by the Township.  The employee denied that the injury occurred during employment but filed a protective Workers Compensation petition in case the Township was correct. The Trial Court granted the Township’s motion to dismiss the civil case and the Workers’ Compensation Court ruled that the incident was work-related.  The Appellate Division reversed the Trial Court dismissal and the Workers’ Compensation ruling. 

The Appellate Division summarized how the “coming and going” doctrine, as the determining factor for whether an employee was in the course of employment when injured, evolved into the current doctrine of “premises liability,” where the site of an employee’s injury while coming or going to work and the employer’s control of that site are the determining factors.  The Appellate Division held that the Township’s ownership of the parking lot and the employee’s use of that parking lot after leaving work were not dispositive.  The Appellate Division recognized that the premises liability doctrine, to determine whether an employee coming and going to work was “in the course of employment,” was not limited to injuries occurring within the physical place of employment, and was also not based upon whether the employer owned the site of the injury.  The Appellate Division noted that such reasoning could support the absurd result that an injury sustained by a departing employee on any Township road might qualify as a work-related accident.  In reversing, The Appellate Division noted that the Township did not require the employee to use that lot and the lot was open for use by the public regardless of whether related to the library.

It appears the ruling requires the employer to restrict both the walkway and parking area to its employees before concluding the employee was in the course of employment.  Merely entering or exiting a place of employment from a public sidewalk or entrance should not alone constitute an event in the course of employment. 

Jacob Papay, Jr.Jacob A. Papay, Jr. is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC, and practices primarily in the areas of construction defect claims, construction injury claims,  first-party insurer claims, insurance coverage disputes, subrogation, provider health care law, commercial law, defense of professional negligence, and public entity general liability.  He represents numerous insurers, Third Party Administrators, medical groups, and businesses, and he has successfully defended public entity officials and employers in wrongful death, discrimination, excessive force and other civil rights claims.  In addition, Mr. Papay represents small businesses in mergers, acquisitions, trade secrets, employment and unfair trade practice claims. 

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Any statements made herein are solely for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice.