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Rivera v. Dubell Lumber Company

A-2583-02T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

WORKERS COMPENSATION—When a supervisor uses a company vehicle to pick up another employee and bring each of them from home to work, that is a ridesharing arrangement and the beginning of the trip is treated as the beginning of employment for the purposes of the Workers Compensation Act.

Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, “[e]mployment shall also be deemed to commence when an employee is traveling in a ridesharing arrangement between his or her place of residence or terminal near such place and his or her place of employment, if one of the following conditions is satisfied: the vehicle used in the ridesharing arrangement is owned, leased or contracted for by the employer… .” Here, an employee’s supervisor had an arrangement with the employer under which the supervisor was provided with a company truck to drive between home and the company’s work site each day. This also allowed the company to dispatch the supervisor directly from home to work at off-premises sites. The supervisor picked up another company employee each morning and drove him home at the end of the day. It wasn’t clear whether the employee requested transportation from the supervisor or the supervisor offered the transportation. The vehicle was rear ended and both the supervisor and the employee sustained serious injuries. This gave rise to the question as to whether the “employee suffered an injury caused by an ‘accident arising out of and in the course of his employment.’” The company contended that it did not. The employee, relying on the “ridesharing” provision of the statute, claimed otherwise. The lower court, relying on the employer’s “testimony that he was unaware of the ‘ridesharing’ arrangement ... and had not authorized, much less encouraged or required, such an arrangement,” rejected the ridesharing theory of compensability. The Appellate Division disagreed. It looked to what it thought the Legislature had intended with the plain language of the statute. It was convinced that this was a “ridesharing arrangement” between the employee’s home and work and that the vehicle was company owned. Further, the travel arrangements served the “dual purposes” of benefitting the employer and the employee. The supervisor was acting under apparent authority “in either offering or agreeing to transport” the employee. To the Court, that meant that he was acting as the company’s agent even if the employer did not have actual knowledge of the arrangement. Based on that reasoning, and because of the underlying policy of the Act favoring coverage, the lower court’s decision was reversed and the matter was remanded with instructions that the coverage be applied to this injury.

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