Geaney: Long Drive for Lunch After Business Meeting Not Compensable
Thursday, July 22, 2021 | 0
Andrew Mackoff worked as a salesman and account manager for New Brunswick Saw Services. One of his duties was to travel to the company’s businesses for meetings and service calls.
On Dec. 3, 2018, Mackoff left his home in Blackwood and drove to West Caldwell for a 10 a.m. customer meeting. Following the one-hour meeting, he decided to drive to the Galloping Hill Inn in Kenilworth for lunch. He had been going to the restaurant for many years, and he loved its hot dogs.
After lunch, he said, he planned to go to the company office in Middlesex County because he had not been there for a while.
In testimony, petitioner said the Galloping Hill Inn was like a “nostalgia place” for him. He also commented that he was theoretically going to prospect because the restaurant had slicers for sandwiches. He called the Inn a “potential customer.” However, he admitted on cross-examination that the Galloping Hill Inn was never a customer of his company, and he had no other customers to visit around the Inn.
On the way to the restaurant, he was involved in a car accident.
Petitioner filed a claim and a motion for medical and temporary disability benefits, seeking treatment for his injuries. Respondent opposed the motion and denied the claim as not arising from employment.
Judge of Compensation Ingrid French found that petitioner failed to prove a work-related accident. The judge was not persuaded that petitioner was really intending to “prospect” the hot dog restaurant. She commented that petitioner’s “primary purpose for driving to the hot dog place was personal and not work-related.”
She added that petitioner “unequivocally testified that immediately following his meeting ... he was going to get his lunch at the ‘hot dog place.’ Then, his attorney prodded him to state that ‘theoretically,’ the ‘hot dog place’ was also a prospective customer. Specifically, and in support of this ‘theory,’ the petitioner stated that ‘any’ food establishment that sells prepared food is a potential customer.”
French found that petitioner had concluded his workday and was simply on his way to lunch. The Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal of the case.
The court said, “The definition of ‘employment’ under the statute is multifaceted and includes situations in which the employee is physically away from the employer’s premises, but nevertheless is ‘engaged in the direct performance of duties assigned or directed by the employer.’”
The court also observed that employees who have been injured in the course of a ‘minor deviation’ have been found to be covered for workers’ compensation purposes. But the court did not feel this was a minor deviation case. It noted that petitioner admitted that if he drove to the Galloping Hill Inn to get a hot dog and then to his office, it would have been about two hours out of his way rather than going directly to the office. This was a key fact in the conclusion that the primary purposes of the trip was personal and non-work-related.
The court relied mostly on Jumpp v. City of Ventnor, noting that Mr. Jumpp’s accident while returning from his post office errand was found not to be a minor deviation even though the stop at the post office was only a few yards away from the road he was traveling on.
The court said, “[P]etitioner’s decision to travel an hour east from his West Caldwell meeting 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.’”
It was interesting that the Appellate Division referenced the decision in Cooper v. Barnickel Enterprises Inc. In that case, the petitioner’s car accident was found compensable where he was driving five miles to get a cup of coffee at a deli. Mr. Cooper was planning to meet with his union instructor but found out that the instructor was tied up teaching a course. Cooper admitted that he was simply killing time in getting a cup of coffee before meeting with the instructor.
A key difference between the two cases is that Mackoff’s day was basically done, although he did testify that he planned to visit the company office after lunch. The judge and the Appellate Division in Cooper felt that petitioner was just taking his coffee break, as any other employee would. But Mackoff was driving a much longer distance off the route to his office for a hot dog without having any other business meetings scheduled that day.
Mackoff v. New Brunswick Saw Service can be found here.
John H. Geaney is an attorney, executive committee member and shareholder with Capehart Scatchard, a defense law firm in New Jersey. This post appears with permission from Geaney's New Jersey Workers' Comp Blog.