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Jumpp v. City of Ventnor

351 N.J. Super. 44, 796 A.2d 945 (App. Div. 2002)

WORKERS COMPENSATION; INCIDENTAL DEVIATION — There is a clear legislative mandate sharply curtailing workers compensation benefits for off-premises accidents.

A municipal employee, who worked as a pumping station operator, deviated from his assigned rounds by picking up his personal mail at the post office. While leaving the post office, he injured himself. He was denied workers’ compensation benefits because the compensation judge concluded that the employee was not “engaged in a direct performance of duties assigned or directed by the employer… “at the time of the injury. His duties required him to visit various public facilities twice daily. Ordinarily, he performed paperwork at his municipal office and then, using a municipal vehicle, checked a number of sites. Those tasks were usually completed by mid-morning. He then often “stopped to have a cup of coffee before returning to the public works office.” This routine was repeated during the afternoon hours. The employee had no “standard” lunch or break time and was permitted by his supervisor “to stop for coffee or to use the bathroom facilities at local restaurants.” After leaving one public site, and while headed to another, he stopped at the post office to check for personal mail. While exiting the post office, he fell and injured his right hip. His testimony was that he normally stopped at the post office on a daily basis “with the knowledge and approval of his supervisor.” The supervisor confirmed that assertion and stated that there was a union contract which allowed covered employees to take a 15-minute break in the morning and then again in the afternoon. The workers’ compensation judge, in denying benefits, held that “[p]ermitting employees to run minor personal errands is not unlike recreational or social activities… . Allowing them to run personal errands produces no benefit to the employer beyond an improvement in employee moral.” He further held that the municipality permitted, “but did not require, that employees perform minor personal errands during work.” Under a New Jersey statute, “when [an] employee is required by the employer to be away from the employer’s place of employment, the employee shall be deemed to be in the course of employment when the employee is engaged in the direct performance of duties assigned or directed by the employer… .” That language has been interpreted as preserving the “special missions” rule. The injured employee argued that the statute “was intended only to abrogate the pre-amendment court decisions which had eroded the traditional ‘going and coming rule,’ a rule which precluded coverage for injuries occurring during routine travel to and from work.” Further the injured employee contended that the “so-called common-law ‘incidental deviation rule’ [was] implicated here, and that [the] rule was not nullified by “a cited amendment to the statute. Until the relevant statute was amended, Court rulings were to the effect that employees “who, within the time and place of their employment, engaged in acts which minister to personal comfort or needs do not thereby leave the course of their employment unless the extent of the departure is so great that an intent to abandon the job temporarily may be inferred.” After the amendment, courts “have consistently refused to depart from the clear legislative mandate sharply curtailing compensability for off-premises accidents.” Consequently, in deciding this case, the Court held “that an employee who deviates from the temporal and spacial limits of his or her assigned employment tasks for the sole purpose of engaging in a personal errand or activity is simply not ‘engaged in the direct performance of duties assigned or directed by the employer.’” In such circumstances, “[t]he employee is satisfying a personal need, the completion of which is neither incidental to his or her employment tasks nor beneficial to the employer.”

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