TRENTON — The pool of employees in New Jersey who could be eligible for coverage under workers' compensation law should be expanded to include folks who are forced to use public streets and sidewalks in order to get to work, according to legislation awaiting further action in the state Legislature.

The bill, which was approved by the full Senate in January and has been referred to the Assembly Labor Committee, looks to expand coverage to individuals who are told to park in a lot that's separate from their place of employment. An injury in the lot itself may be subject to workers' comp coverage, but what happens if that individual is hit by a car on the walk to or from the office?

"You should be covered from portal to portal when they control where you park," said Rich Marcolus, a Middletown-based workers' compensation lawyer with Levinson Axelrod. "You're covered if you fall in the parking lot on ice, but if you fall on the street covered with ice, you're not covered. It doesn't make any sense."

His firm testified in favor of S771, which would change the state's premises rule that excludes areas "not under the control of the employer."

Kathleen Datoli, who runs a workers' comp and social security disability firm in Toms River, said the bill was likely crafted in response to a 2019 court decision, which found that a nurse at Jersey City Medical Center couldn't receive workers' comp benefits after getting struck by a vehicle and suffering significant injuries at the end of her shift. RWJ Barnabas Health offered parking in the lot where the nurse's car was located, but RWJ did not control the path between the lot and the hospital.

"Anything that is done to protect and expand the rights of injured workers in New Jersey is something that I'm going to be in favor of," Datoli said of the proposed law.

The New Jersey Business & Industry Association, in response to the Senate's 22-10 approval of the measure, said passage of the bill will "no doubt" lead to increased claims and costs to employers.

"Now, during the middle of a pandemic, when so many businesses are trying to keep their businesses operational, is not the time to impose additional, needless costs onto the business and non-profit sectors," NJBIA said in January. "With parking areas often offsite, this bill will disproportionately harm employers in urban areas, making it even harder to redevelop our cities while keeping jobs out of disadvantaged communities."

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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