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Worker's coffee break injury compensable

Court rules errand was 'minor deviation from employment'


TRENTON, N.J.—Injuries that a foreman plumber suffered while driving for coffee arose in the course of his employment, a New Jersey appellate court has ruled.

The Jan. 13 decision by the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division in Jesse J. Cooper Sr. vs. Barnickel Enterprises Inc. upheld a Division of Workers' Compensation finding that Mr. Cooper suffered 100% disability as a result of a February 2003 auto accident that caused compound fractures in both legs and his left arm.

Barnickel appealed the division's judgment, arguing that the accident occurred while Mr. Cooper was on a personal errand unrelated to his work, irrespective of company authorization to use one of its vehicles.

The accident occurred shortly after Mr. Cooper left a union hall where he had gone to discuss an upcoming company project with a union instructor. But because the instructor was busy teaching a class, Mr. Cooper took a coffee break.

The New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that Mr. Cooper, who is an “off-site” employee—one who does not report to a single job site—could not be expected to “stand like a statue or remain at the union hall with nothing to do for such a period, particularly when there was no coffee available at the site.”

Accidents occurring during coffee breaks for off-site employees are equivalent to those suffered by on-site workers and “are minor deviations from employment which permit recovery of workers' compensation benefits,” the court ruled.