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Personal errands and work

On March 14, 2007, the New Jersey Appellate Division decided Valcarel v. FSA Management, A-40001-05T2 (Mar. 14, 2007)(Not Approved for Publication). The issue at bar was whether or not the claimant was “acting within the scope of his employment” when the accident occurred. The Appellate Division agreed with the Judge of Compensation (Judge Joel Gottlieb, New Brunswick) that the petitioner was engaged “on personal business when he was involved in the accident in question” and that no compensation would be payable.

The facts in Valcarcel are important to understanding the judges’ decision.

The claimant in Valcarcel was employed by FSA managing a residential apartment complex in Bridgewater. The petitioner was supplied with the use of a company vehicle (a Ford pickup truck). Occasionally the claimant would perform maintenance at other properties owned and operated by FSA.

The claimant also operated a personal business: home remodeling, which he pursued after normal work hours. FSA did not allow the claimant to use the Ford truck for his personal business.

On the date of accident the claimant was instructed to travel to Highland Park on behalf of his employer. Instead of driving straight to Highland Park, the claimant diverted his route and stopped at a private job site in Plainfield where he had been remodeling a private residence. After leaving that job site, the petitioner was involved in a motor vehicle accident in Plainfield.

Judge Gottlieb dismissed the claim petition, finding that the claimant had embarked on a personal errand. The petitioner argued that at the time of the accident, he was headed to Highland Park (as he had been originally instructed by his employer). The Appellate Division found this argument unpersuasive and upheld Judge Gottlieb, noting “that surely is not a dispositve fact, for it would logically signify that Valcarcel would likewise be entitled to coverage if, say, he had traveled several hours away for personal business to Cape May or to Connecticut before heading to Highland Park.”

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