'Personal errands' and employment

One of the most basic questions we always ask when looking at a new claim is: Did the injuries arise out of the employment? There are probably more reported decisions on disputes about this question than any other issue in New Jersey Workers’ Compensation. I dedicate an entire chapter of my book to this subject and blogged extensively on this subject.

In an interesting new decision, an Appellate Panel found that that an employee’s injuries did not arise out of the course of employment while he was on a personal errand.

The claimant, William Garcia, was riding in his employer’s vehicle which was being driven by his foreman. The claimant was on his way to a bank to cash his paycheck. The claimant also alleged that he was riding between job sites or was going to return to the original job site at the time of the accident.

The claimant relied on the following facts to establish that he was actually working at the time of his accident:
• He was actually being driven in an employer-owned vehicle at the time of the accident;
•He was driven by his foreman; and
•He was on his way to or from a job site.

The workers’ compensation judge found that the claimant was not engaged in or assigned to work directed by the employer at the time of the accident. The Appellate Division agreed with this reasoning, and affirmed the denial of workers’ compensation benefits.

The Appellate Panel explored the possible legal arguments that would support the petitioner’s claims for benefits. First, they determined that the claimant failed to show “that the employee was performing his or her prescribed duties at the time of the injury.” (Quoting Jumpp v. City of Ventnor, 177 N.J. 470 (2003).

Next, the Appellate Panel discussed the Supreme Court’s decision in Sager v. O.A. Peterson Construction Company, 182 N.J. 156 (2004) and compared the facts in Sager to the facts of the Garcia case. In Sager, the claimant was “directed” by his site supervisor to extend his workday and have dinner with his co-employees and was injured while returning to the worksite after dinner. The Panel found that unlike the facts in Sager, no one ‘directed’ the claimant to go to the bank and cash his check (they found it to be a personal errand).

Finally, the Panel considered whether it was possible the claimant had a “reasonable belief” that his employer wanted him to go to the bank and cash his paycheck. This consideration was necessary in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Lozano v. Frank DeLuca Construction, 178 N.J. 513 (2004), which held that even if an employee is not directly told to do something, the act may be found to be “in the course of employment” if the employee had a reasonable belief that his employer wanted the act done.

After considering every possible way that the accident could be considered “arising out of the employment” the Appellate Panel concluded that it did not. The decision of the workers’ compensation Judge dismissing this case was rightly affirmed.

Case: William Garcia v. Wagner Land Expansion, App. Div. A-3595-07T1, decided November 6, 2008 by Judges Stern, Waugh, and Newman. (Note: this blog entry discusses an ‘unpublished’ decision).

Statute discussed: N.J.S.A. 34:15-36

Contributed by: Greg Lois

Greg Lois is the managing partner of LOIS LLC, a 19-attorney law firm dedicated to defending employers and carriers in New York and New Jersey workers' compensation claims. Greg is the author of a popular series of "Handbooks" on workers' compensation, and is the co-author of the 2016 Lexis-Nexis New Jersey Workers' Compensation Practice Guide. Greg can be reached at 201-880-7213 or glois@lois-llc.com