Trenton, NJ (WorkersCompensation.com) – While a minor deviation to pick up a bite to eat might not defeat a worker’s claim for benefits if he was hurt along the way, driving more than two hours off course just to visit a special lunch spot likely won’t be work-related.
In Mackoff v. New Brunswick Saw Service, No. A-3625-19 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 07/14/21, unpublished), the court determined that a salesperson’s wreck while driving to one of his favorite hot dog places after a sales meeting didn’t arise out of his job because of the distance he drove to get there and because the point of the trip was all about food and nostalgia, not work.
The salesperson worked for a food processing and meat room equipment company. He typically worked from home but also traveled to clients’ businesses for meetings and service calls. After meeting with a client for roughly one hour, the salesperson decided he would visit the hot dog place for lunch before heading to the office.
On his way to the restaurant, the salesperson was involved in a car accident. About three weeks later, the salesperson filed a claim for workers’ compensation, alleging that he experienced head, neck, and back injuries from the collision.
At a hearing, the salesperson reported that he stopped by the hot dog place because “he didn’t have anything pressing to do at that point,” and he was hungry and liked the restaurant because it “was like a nostalgia place” where he “had being going … forever.”
The salesperson also noted that although it was his intention “to go to lunch at that point,” the restaurant was “theoretically … a prospect” because they had equipment similar to what he sold.
The judge denied the salesperson’s motion for benefits, finding that the salesperson failed to prove that he had a work-related accident. The judge concluded that the salesperson was “en route to the hot dog place,” and his primary purpose was personal, not work-related.
The worker appealed, maintaining that many restaurants were potential clients due to the equipment they used.
Under New Jersey cases, when an employee is assigned to work at locations away from the employer’s place of employment, eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits generally should be based on a finding that the employee is performing his prescribed job duties at the time of the injury. Courts have found eligibility in cases where employees were injured in the course of a “minor deviation” from their duties.
In the salesperson’s case, the restaurant at issue was about two hours out of his way, and it was never a customer. As a result, the court rejected the salesperson’s argument that the purpose of the trip to the hot dog place was work-related.
Instead, the “primary purpose for driving to the hot dog place was personal and not work-related,” the court explained. The court also pointed out that going two hours out of the way meant that the deviation was not minor in nature.
According to the court, the salesperson’s decision to travel so far after the meeting before he returned to the office “because he was hungry and ‘going to get food first’ was not the sort of activity that ‘would have been compensable if carried out by an on-premises employee.’”