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Victory in work comp case comes down to a matter of inches

It is not often that a case involving a dispute over workers' compensation benefits makes national headlines, but a recent case out of New Jersey in which an injured worker literally prevailed by a matter of inches has people all over the country talking.

Back in September 2012, a casino dealer at Harrah's Atlantic City -- we'll call her Carla -- finished her shift and headed directly to the employee parking lot, where she got into her car, drove through the internal driveway and attempted to make a left turn out of the employee parking lot onto a public street.

However, as Carla attempted to make the turn, she was struck by another car on her driver's side door. Security camera footage and the police report indicated that the front of her car was on the road at the time of the accident while part of the rear of her car was still located on the Harrah's employee parking lot.

In the aftermath of the car accident, Carla, suffering from injuries to her neck, head, back, shoulder and knee, filed a work comp claim petition, as well as a motion for temporary disability benefits and medical benefits. Not surprisingly, Harrah's denied responsibility and the matter went before a judge for the state's Division of Workers' Compensation.

When the matter came before the work comp judge in May 2013, he ruled that the only issue to be determined was whether Carla was considered to be in the course of her employment at the time of the accident.

In order to make this determination, the judge examined the police report, accident premises and security camera footage of the accident, noting that 12 inches of Carla's car was still located on Harrah's parking lot at the time of the wreck.

This proved to be the deciding factor, as the work comp judge ruled that state law dictated that because the car was technically still on the employer's parking lot at the time of the accident, Carla was still in the course of her employment with Harrah's. An order for the desired benefits was subsequently entered.

Harrah's challenged the decision in a state appellate court, arguing that Carla's injuries technically didn't occur on the parking lot, but rather on the public street.

The appellate court ultimately upheld the decision by the work comp judge, finding that state law supported the decision and that Harrah's argument was "ultra-rigid" in that it "focuses only on the colliding vehicles' point of impact and the front seat location of [Carla]."

Here, the court reasoned that the facts clearly showed that Carla did not completely leave the Harrah's parking lot when the collision occurred, and that even though her car was only a few inches on the lot and she was on her way home, she was still in the course of her employment.

Cases like these demonstrate just how complicated the quest for workers' compensation benefits -- including medical treatment, wage loss, etc. -- can sometimes become. Accordingly, those who find themselves injured on the job should strongly consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about their rights and their options if an employer denies a work comp claim.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Casino dealer prevails in workers' comp dispute in New Jersey," Young Ha, Jan. 24, 2014   

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