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Going-and-Coming Rule in NJ

The New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act states that “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.”

The Act provides exceptions for (1) paid travel time; (2) employees using an employer-authorized vehicle; (3) 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.

A recent case, decided February 22, 2007, discusses the application of the going-and-coming rule in the context of a familiar set of facts.

In Lawhead v. Harleysville Insur. Co., App. Div. February 22, 2007 (not approved for publication), defense attorney Mark Lawhead appeared in workers’ compensation court in Newark to represent his employer, Harleysville Insurance Company. He was busy in court until 2:45pm. He was scheduled to appear the following day in Freehold workers’ compensation court, and because he did not have the necessary files, he drove in a company-owned vehicle from Newark to his office in Somerset to pick them up. After retrieving the files, he was injured while driving from his office to his home in Tinton Falls (again, in the company-owned vehicle).

The Judge of Compensation found Lawhead’s injuries compensable by deciding that Lawhead was “engaged in an activity for his employer’s benefit when he had his accident” and because Lawhead was operating a company-owned vehicle at the time of the accident.

The Appellate Division panel disagreed and reversed the Compensation Judge, finding that the petitioner was “merely in the course of traveling from his office to his home at the end of a normal workday.” The Appellate Division found that the claimant was “engaged in his regular commute” and therefore not entitled to benefits.

Practice tip: The facts surrounding an off-premises accident are of paramount importance in determining whether the claim is compensable.

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