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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 was one of 14 or 15 companies in the building with about 140 employees. 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).