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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 was a defectly-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).