One New Jersey corrections officer won a bid for enhanced benefits, and another lost, in a pair of Appellate Division rulings that required the court to decide whether their parking lot falls occurred on work time or personal time.
On Wednesday, the same panel ruled that a corrections officer who slipped on the way out to her car on what amounted to a restroom break is entitled to enhanced benefits, while the other, who fell before he checked into work, was not eligible.
The published rulings were issued by Appellate Division Judges Jack Sabatino, Mitchel Ostrer and Lisa Rose.
The first case involves a corrections officer at the Mercer County Correctional Center, Kristy Bowser. According to the court, she was injured on an unspecified date while on duty, while she took a brief break to obtain feminine hygiene products from her car.
She slipped and fell on the icy parking lot, and was thereafter unable to return to active duty, the court said. She sought accidental disability benefits, which would offer her an enhanced pension.
The Police and Firemen’s Retirement System denied her application, and she appealed.
The appeals court sided with her on the appeal.
“We conclude she suffered her injury during the equivalent of a restroom break ‘within the confines of the work day at the work location,’” Ostrer said, quoting the state Supreme Court’s 2000 ruling in Kasper v. Board of Trustees.
“Here, Bowser suffered a disabling accidental injury during her workday, at the work location,” Ostrer said.
Just as it is necessary for employees to take restroom breaks during the course of their workdays, “so was Bowser’s break to retrieve these necessary products,” Ostrer said.
The second case involved corrections officer Paul Mattia, who worked at Northern State Prison. According to the court, he slipped and fell on an icy parking lot on Feb. 19, 2014, was injured and was unable to return to work. He also applied for accidental disability benefits, but, like Bowser, was rebuffed by the board.
On Mattia’s appeal, the Appellate Division panel sided with the board.
“We affirm, finding that Mattia was still commuting when he was injured in the parking lot,” Rose said, writing for the panel in that separate decision.
“We conclude … that Mattia had not yet completed his commute when he was injured, and was not performing any function connected to his work assignment when he was injured,” Rose said.
Samuel Gaylord of Gaylord Popp in Ewing, represented Bowser.
Brooke Bagley of Ricci, Fava & Bagley in Little Falls represented Mattia.
The retirement system was represented by the Attorney General’s Office.
None returned calls seeking comment on the rulings.