The Special Mission Exception to Workers Compensation Permits Compensation for Employees That Are Required to Be Away from the Conventional Place of Employment
Docket No. A-3524-20
Decided November 15, 2022
Submitted by New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided respondent/appellant, Jersey Mechanical Contractor’s, appeal from the order awarding petitioner workers’ compensation benefits.
The facts of this case are as follows: Petitioner began working for Jersey Mechanical in October 2019. He is a union member and the union he belonged to had a collective bargaining agreement with Jersey Mechanical. By September the following year, petitioner was a second-year apprentice pipe fitter and truck driver. He did not have a formal job description and was assigned various tasks. Petitioner normally worked from 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. he would meet with his boss prior to the work day, and would receive the tasks that must be completed that day.
On September 29, 2020, petitioner’s boss tasked him with exchanging two empty acetylene gas tanks, which were used to solder pipes, for full ones at a store that serviced those types of gas tanks; delivering one full acetylene gas tank to a jobsite; and deliver paychecks to Jersey Mechanical employees at five jobsites. While delivering paychecks to one of the jobsites, the jobsite’s foreman asked petitioner if he was delivering a full acetylene gas tank. Petitioner advised the foreman that he had not been instructed to deliver a tank to that jobsite. The foreman noted at trial that he was expecting petitioner deliver a tank on the aforementioned date because he had sent a request to petitioner’s boss the day before.
Acting on his own volition, petitioner loaded a full acetylene gas tank into the hatchback of his personal vehicle and intended to deliver it to the jobsite, but didn’t since it was late and nobody would have been at the jobsite. The next day, petitioner drove to work and forgot the tank was in his vehicle and drove past the jobsite without making the delivery. A colleague of petitioner texted him that he needed a ride to work because he couldn’t drive due to an injury. After telling his colleague her would pick him up, petitioner heard a “hissing sound” in his vehicle. At this point, he remembered about the tank in the hatchback of his vehicle and immediately stopped on the side of the road, opened all the windows, exited his vehicle, and went to the hatchback of the vehicle. As he opened the hatch of his vehicle, the tank exploded, causing serious and severe injuries to petitioner. He was subsequently rushed to a trauma hospital where he underwent multiple surgeries and extensive medical treatment. Petitioner was in a coma for eight days, suffered traumatic brain injuries, and lost the use of one of his eyes.
Petitioner then filed a workers’ compensation claim in October 2020. His employer rejected the claim and asserted that petitioner’s injuries did not arise out of and in the course of his employment. Following a trial, the workers’ compensation judge found in favor of the petitioner, concluding that petitioner had been engaged in work-related duties when the accident occurred, and he was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Furthermore, the judge found that petitioner was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under the special-mission exception to the going-and-coming rule. Jersey Mechanical appealed.
On appeal, Jersey Mechanical contended that the legal determinations made by the compensation judge were not supported by the facts. Thus, they argued that (1) petitioner’s injuries did not arise out of and in the course of his employment; (2) petitioner was not injured while engaged in a special mission for Jersey Mechanical; and (3) petitioner’s injuries were not compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Normally, an employee’s injury does not occur in the course of employment if it occurs away from the employer’s premises or in an area not controlled by the employer. However, the special mission exception to this general rule permits compensation for employees that are required to be away from the conventional place of employment and are actually engaged in the direct performance of employment duties. In this case, the Appellate Court of New Jersey was unpersuaded by Jersey Mechanical’s argument and found that a substantial amount of credible evidence supports the compensation judge’s that petitioner was on a special mission for Jersey Mechanical when he was en route to pick up his colleague, and was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients in Workers’ Compensation Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining to obtaining workers’ compensation benefits as a result of an injury sustained in the course of employment. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for them to receive the most favorable outcome in their case as a result.
We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation to that of the petitioner in this case, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington, Haddon Heights, Pine Hill, Bellmawr, Haddon Township, Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.