Latshaw v. Lakewood Twp. Police Dep’t, No. A-3702-21 (Mar. 25, 2024)

Appellate Division finds that paid status during a break does not mandate workers’ compensation coverage and affirmed the dismissal of the claim.

The petitioner appealed the dismissal of her workers’ compensation claim. She was working for the respondent as a dispatcher, and on her meal break in October 2018, she was rear-ended. She filed a workers’ compensation claim, which the employer opposed, arguing she was injured outside the scope of her employment. 

At trial, the petitioner was the only witness and testified that she worked an eight-hour shift and was expected to take a break in the middle, with supervisor approval. It was undisputed that dispatchers were paid for their time on lunch breaks, even if they left the premises. The petitioner testified she had driven from the station to a restaurant for her meal and was injured on her way back. Following testimony, the employer moved to dismiss her claim as the accident occurred while on a personal errand. In June 2022, the workers’ compensation judge granted the employer’s motion.

The petitioner appealed. The Appellate Division noted that, while the appeal was pending, the Supreme court issued the unanimous opinion in Keim v. Above All Termite & Pest Control, 256 N.J. 47 (2023). Applicable case law and statute were reviewed in defining employment and exceptions, including the premises rule, special mission rule, paid travel time rule and authorized vehicle rule. In going through these exceptions, the Appellate Division pointed out that the petitioner was not covered under the premises rule as the accident occurred off premises. She was also not covered under the special mission rule as she was not performing any job duties while on her break. Finally, she was not covered under the paid travel time rule as it required her to be “traveling to and from a job site” and not just paid for her break.

In referring to prior precedents, the Appellate Division noted that the petitioner’s paid status during her break did not mandate workers’ compensation coverage and affirmed the dismissal of the claim. 


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