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Miller v. Abel Leasing for Hopkins Cycles, Inc.

A-1631-02T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

WORKERS COMPENSATION; SPECIAL MISSION—An employee injured while engaging in a personal, non-work related activity who is also incidently performing valuable work for the employer pursuant to the employer’s directions, is entitled to worker’s compensation coverage.

A motorcycle dealer’s employee, whose normal job duties were to work on the showroom floor and stock shelves with apparel, was injured during a lunchtime ride on one of the dealer’s motorcycles. The owner testified that she had “asked to ride a specific motorcycle they had just [gotten] in because it was similar to the one she had at home and she ‘[thought] she wanted to try [it].’” He “denied directing her to ride a particular route, caring about where she went, or how long she rode the cycle. He denied telling her that he wanted her to put break-in mileage on the cycle or that there was such a shop requirement for the demos.” The woman, who was injured during the motorcycle ride, testified (as did the shop manager), “that the manufacturer required fourteen miles of break-in driving on a new motorcycle, a requirement [the company] complied with both for those motorcycles to be sold to customers and those to be used as demos.” The shop manager testified that if the employee “had not put the mileage on the cycle, he or another employee would have had to do the job.” He admitted that he directed the route that the woman was to take “to be sure of the proper mileage.”

The Compensation Judge found the owner’s denial of the need to break-in a demo bike “incredulous.” He was satisfied that the woman was directed to ride a particular motorcycle so as to put the necessary mileage on it. Therefore, he was satisfied that there was a corresponding benefit to the motorcycle dealer.

On appeal, the dealer argued that the lower court had created a new exception to the going-and-coming rule “finding compensasbility [sic] where there is perceived benefit to the employer even when the employee is off premises and not required by the employer to perform duties away from the employer’s premises.” Under current statutes: “Employment shall be deemed to commence when an employee arrives at an employee’s place of employment to report for work and shall terminate when the employee leaves the employer’s place of employment, excluding areas not under the control of the employer.” Further, employment also covers the period of time when an employee is, with authorization, operating a vehicle on business authorized by the employer. On the other hand, “courts still found it necessary to examine compensability for off-premises accidents,” such as with accidents happening during the lunch hour. Under such analysis, there is no worker’s compensation provided for accidents occurring in areas outside of the employer’s control. Nonetheless, there is an exception to that general rule known as the “special mission” exception. It applies when employees are required to be away from their conventional place of employment and are actually engaged in the direct performance of employment duties while they are away. There is also a “travel-time” exception for employees “using an employer-authorized vehicle for travel time to and from a distant job site.” The “travel-time” exception was not implicated here because the woman was not going to a “distant job site.” On the other hand, the Court found that the “special mission” exception fit. According to the Court, the woman “was injured while operating her employer’s motorcycle with the employer’s authorization.” Even though that, by itself, was not sufficient to bring her off-premises’ activities within the scope of her employment for the purpose of Worker’s Compensation benefits, and it wasn’t dispositive that the company “acquiesced in the motorcycle ride,” this was not a merely a personal activity on the part of the injured employee. There was a real benefit to the employer, not just some “generalized benefit.”

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