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Gavrilidis v. The New Heritage Diner

A-6844-02T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

WORKERS COMPENSATION—A workers compensation judge should not make factual determinations based solely on deposition transcripts where there are conflicting positions and additional evidence is available.

A diner employee was injured when he slipped and fell in the diner’s parking lot. According to the employee, after completing a three-hour shift of work, he stayed for approximately one-half hour to drink coffee and talk with others. During that time, snow accumulated. He slipped on the snow when leaving the diner. The employee then sued the diner. Both the employee and the diner’s owner were deposed. In those depositions, the employee claimed that he was a business invitee or casual employee at the time of his injury, while the owner contended that he was a newly-hired regular employee.

The employee’s complaints were dismissed without prejudice to permit a workers’ compensation action to resolve the issue of his employment status and determine whether he could receive compensation under the Workers’ Compensation Act. During the proceeding, the diner stipulated to the employee’s employment and requested that the judge of compensation decide whether the accident arose out of, and in the course of, that employment, and whether the employee could receive workers’ compensation for it. The judge, based only on the employee’s deposition, determined that the employee was purely a casual employee and therefore was not entitled to workers’ compensation. Thus, the judge failed to decide the issue raised by the parties and instead decided the issue that had been specifically reserved because of the conflicting factual positions of the parties.

The employee, having benefit of the order of the judge of compensation, moved in the Superior Court for reinstatement of his Law Division action. The diner opposed the motion and appealed from the determination of the judge of compensation. The Appellate Division held that the judge of compensation decided the dispositive issue of employment status on an incomplete record that failed to disclose the conflicting factual positions of the litigants. Thus, the Court vacated the judge’s order and remanded the case.

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