A new case shows just how far the New Jersey Courts will go to construe ‘questionable’ injuries as compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act.
A truck driver was injured at home while doing some routine maintenance on his work truck. He claimed that his injuries were compensable because his hauling services agreement with his employer required him to “maintain” his tractor trailer at his own expense. The employer denied the claim, stating that the injuries did not arise out of the ‘scope’ of employment.
The driver, Guillermo Chaverri, entered into an exclusive written agreement with Cace Trucking to provide hauling services. Under the contract, the claimant was required to “maintain, register, and insure” his tractor trailer at his own expense. The Agreement also contained a provision requiring the claimant to maintain the tractor in “good and safe condition and in compliance with the relations of all applicable public authorities.”
The incident occurred on a weekend day. The petitioner claimed that he injured is right eye while working on his tractor trailer at his home. The claimant alleged that his vision was impaired and that he developed a psychiatric disability. There were no witnesses to the incident.
The Judge of Compensation ruled that Chaverri was an employee of cace, finding that Cace “had total control of the workday, told petitioner exactly what to do all day, and petitioner was precluded from working for anyone else during the time period he worked for Cace.” However, the Judge of Compensation found that the eye injury feel outside the scope of employment – finding it significant that the claimant was not on duty at all times, could use the tractor trailer for his own purposes, and was not “in the business of maintaining vehicles.” Further, the Judge found that nothing in the agreement between Cace and the claimant required the petitioner to do his own repairs.
The Appellate Division reversed, stating that “Courts have held that certain injuries sustained by an employee while performing a necessary aspect of the job, even if not performed during normal working hours and not on the employer’s premise, may be compensable.” The Appellate Curt ruled that at the time of the injury, the claimant was “engaged in the direct performance of his duties assigned” under the employment agreement. The case was remanded to the workers’ compensation court for further proceedings (most likely a settlement or award for permanent disability).
Case: Chaverri v. Cace Trucking Inc., App. Div. 39-2-7290 (Decided March 26, 2010).