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Johnson-Tucker v. Plainfield Board of Education

A-5078-07T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

WORKERS COMPENSATION; SPECIAL MISSION — An employee who is injured while eating breakfast at a lodging site while attending a job-related conference at a nearby location is entitled to receive workers compensation benefits.

An employee was directed by her employer to attend a multi-day educational conference, and she was lodged in a neighboring hotel. Her employer covered her expenses, including meals. The employee regularly ate breakfast at her hotel prior to attending her day’s conference. One day, while eating breakfast, her table collapsed and she was injured. She filed a workers’ compensation action against her employer. The compensation judge ruled that the special mission rule applied and the employee was entitled to benefits for injuries sustained while in the furtherance of her employer’s directive to attend an out-of-state convention. The employer appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed the compensation court’s ruling. It found that the employee was following her usual routine when she went down to breakfast at her hotel prior to attending the conference for work. The Court approved the compensation court’s holding that the employee’s breakfast was incidental to and in the direct performance of her job duties (i.e., attendance at educational classes). It found that the special mission rule was satisfied as it approved the lower court finding that the employee was deemed to be in the course of her employment at the time of the accident. The Court noted that she was engaged in the direct performance of duties assigned or directed by her employer by her special trip to attend classes beneficial for her position. It disagreed with the employer’s allegation that eating breakfast was a purely personal activity. The Court stated that in the context of a multi-day off premises assignment, all regular meals eaten at designated locations where an employee is required to be part of the special mission. In this case, it found the breakfast was necessary for the employee, and she would not have been eating at the hotel but for her assignment to attend the convention ultimately for her employer’s benefit.

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