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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Injury Suffered During Coffee Break Compensable

















Alabama@Work
By: Tommy Eden, Attorney

On January 15, 2010 a New Jersey appellate court held that injuries to a foreman plumber suffered while driving for coffee arose in the course of his employment. The 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 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 Enterprises appealed claiming that the accident occurred while Cooper was on a personal errand unrelated to his work. However, Jesse Cooper was given authorization to use the company vehicle. Cooper had left a union hall where he had gone to discuss an upcoming company project with a union instructor because the instructor was busy teaching a class.

Cooper, the Appeals court observed, “was an off-site employee, and could not be expected to stay at a workplace for a period of time with nothing to do, particularly when there was no coffee available at the site.” The court went on to state that “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."

Common Sense Counsel: Alabama should be careful when allowing company employees to utilize a company vehicle for what would otherwise be a personal errand. A vehicle use policy in your handbook is a wise idea. The Alabama workers compensation act is liberally construed similar to the above case so be careful out there.


Tommy Eden is a Lee County native, an attorney with the local office of Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901. Blog at www.alabamaatwork.com