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NJ Office Secures Important Ruling on Appeal for Employers

In the case of Valerie Pyles v. Mentor Network, Petitioner was injured when she slipped and fell on the floor of an elevator which she intended to take to reach her place of employment, on the third floor of a four story office building. The claim was denied based on the rule which provides that, “employment shall be deemed to commence when an employee arrives at the employer’s place of employment to report for work and shall terminate when the employee leaves the employer’s place of employment, excluding areas not under the control of the employer.” N.J.S.A. 34:15-36. The matter proceeded to trial, and the Workers’ Compensation Judge determined that Petitioner’s accident was not compensable, as she had not yet arrived at Respondent’s place of business when she slipped on the elevator. Further, and notably, at the time of her fall, Respondent did not exercise control over Petitioner, or the common area of the building where Petitioner’s alleged injuries occurred. Petitioner subsequently filed an appeal from the Judge’s Order. Following briefing and argument before an Appellate Panel, the Court declined to disturb the findings of the Judge of Compensation, and affirmed the decision in its entirety.

What it means for employers…

The decision by the Appellate Division serves to strengthen an employer’s denial position with respect to injuries which take place while coming to and going from work. Prior to this decision, common area injuries (vestibules, stairways, elevators, and parking lots, etc…) were routinely being found compensable by the Judges of Compensation. In so doing, the Judges were relying upon perceived control over the injured worker at the time of the injury. In light of this decision, control shall no longer be presumed, but is an element of the claim that the injured worker needs to prove in order to secure a finding of compensability. In order to support a denial predicated upon this rule, the employer and claims professional should focus on control, and whether same was exercised over the injured worker or premises, at the time of injury.