Injuries during Five-Mile Trip to Get Coffee . . . Compensable?

In a recent published decision, the New Jersey Appellate Division just published a decision finding that injuries arising from an employee’s five-mile off-premises trip to run a personal errand – buy a cup of coffee – was compensable. The Court ruled that accidents “occurring during coffee breaks for off-site employees, which are equivalent to those of on-site workers, are minor deviations from employment which permit full recovery of workers’ compensation benefits.”
This is an extremely liberal interpretation of the ‘coming and going’ rule in New Jersey.
The Statute which controls when and where and injury is compensable states: “employment [starts] when an employee arrives at the employer’s place of employment to report for work and [ends] when the employee leaves the employer’s place of employment, excluding areas not under the control of the employer; [unless] the employee is required by the employer to be away from the employer’s place of employment, [in which case] the employee [is] deemed to be in the course of employment when engaged in the direct performance of duties assigned or directed by the employer.” (See N.J.S.A. 34:15-36.) The Act provides exceptions for
paid travel time;
employees using an employer-authorized vehicle; and
travel by emergency personnel (fire, police) traveling to an emergency.
Generally, off-premises travel to and from work is not compensable, UNLESS the employer provides the transportation.
Further, injuries that occur during on-site lunch breaks and coffee breaks are generally found compensable by the New Jersey courts.
In this new case (Cooper v. Barnickel Enterprises Inc., App. Div. Decided Jan 14, 2010) the Court took note of the fact that the claimant was working on a ‘remote’ job site in a “rural area.” Therefore, the claimant’s was entitled to travel a “reasonable distance” from the place at which the off-site employee was waiting to attend his work-related meeting and the coffee break was equivalent to that of an on-site employee.

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