On appeal from Final Decision of Division of Workers' Compensation Court.
Pressler, Dreier and Bilder. The opinion of the court was delivered by Bilder, J.A.D.
Petitioner, Gloria Cressey, appeals from a final decision of the Division of Workers' Compensation finding that her injury was not work-related and dismissing her claim. The appeal involves the proper construction of the 1980 amendment to N.J.S.A. 34:15-36 which redefined the scope of employment to limit the exceptions to the going and coming rule.
Petitioner was employed by respondent Campus Chefs at the cafeteria at Stockton State College. In order to leave her work place she was required to use a rear door which led to a loading dock and proceed from there to one of the nearby parking lots which were available for use by the employees. Although steps led from the loading dock to a ramp below, because of inadequate drainage the ramp was often flooded and impassable. Such was the condition on the night of petitioner's injury.
When the ramp was impassable, it was the practice of respondent's employees to step from the end of the loading dock to a retaining wall at the side of the ramp and step from there around the corner of the building where they would be at ground level. From this point, they could walk directly to the
parking lots. The peril was exacerbated by poor lighting. It is undisputed that this was the only egress permitted to respondent's employees. Petitioner was injured shortly after 8:30 p.m. on March 6, 1983, when she fell while attempting to go around the corner of the loading dock.
N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, as amended in 1980 and applicable to this case, provides as follows:
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; provided, however, when the employee is required by the employer to be away from the employer's place of employment, the employee shall be deemed to be in the course of employment when the employee is engaged in the direct performance of duties assigned or directed by the employer; . . . .
In a bifurcated hearing, tried as to liability only, the compensation judge found that the respondent did not have control of the loading dock; and even if it did, the petitioner was not injured on the dock "but while attempting to leave the premises by going around the corner of the loading dock over a retaining wall and on to a pathway to the public parking lot", and therefore the employment had terminated within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 34:15-36. Thus he concluded recovery was barred under the going and coming rule into which the 1980 amendment had breathed new life. The sole issue on appeal is whether petitioner was in the course of her employment when she suffered her fall.
N.J.S.A. 34:15-36 in its present form was one part of a 1979 legislative effort to reform the Workers' Compensation Act. L. 1979, c. 283. In a general sense, it was intended to "put significantly more money into the hands of the more seriously injured workers while providing genuine reform and meaningful cost containment for New Jersey employers from unjustified workers' compensation costs that are presently among the highest in the nation." See Joint Statement of the Senate and Assembly Labor, Industry and Professions Committees to S802 and A840 (1979). One of the cost containment
benefits intended to accrue to employers was "establishing relief from the far-reaching effect of the 'Going and Coming Rule' decisions by defining and limiting the scope of employment." Ibid. The "going and coming rule" is a rule of workers' compensation which denies compensation for injuries incurred while travelling to and from work. See Hammond v. The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 56 N.J. 7, 11 (1970); 1 Larson, The Law of Workmen's Compensation, § 15.11 (1985). The rule, which is a generally accepted one, limits recovery to injuries which occur on the employer's premises. Ibid. It does this by confining the term "course of employment" to the ...