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Robinson v. Federal Telephone & Radio Corp.

Decided: March 19, 1957.


Clapp, Jayne and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Francis, J.A.D.


Both the Workmen's Compensation Division and the County Court decided that petitioner, William H. Robinson, was entitled to an award of compensation. Respondent again appeals, urging that the accident which produced the disability did not arise out of and in the course of the employment.

At the threshold of the case, attention focuses on the factual character of the basic issue involved. It is well known that in the face of concordant findings thereon by the two tribunals whose jurisdiction has already been invoked, we will not make an independent determination unless the earlier conclusions are palpably erroneous and so plainly unjustified by the evidence that the interests of justice require their nullification. Mahoney v. Nitroform Co., Inc. , 20 N.J. 499, 507 (1956).

The record discloses that Robinson was in the employ of respondent Federal Telephone & Radio Corporation as a micro-wave technician. His usual place of work was in Clifton, New Jersey. In October 1954 he and a fellow employee, John Farley, were ordered to the employer's plant in Mississippi to adjust relays in a micro-wave system. Farley was to drive his own car to that destination, taking Robinson with him as a passenger. The latter had no driver's license and did not know how to operate an automobile. Farley was to receive seven cents a mile for the trip. Respondent agreed also to pay for their food and incidental expenses and did so at a subsequent time. The men were supplied with a recommended but not required route. Otherwise, as the County Court justifiably found, they were on their own "with freedom to set their own hours of travel and to make their own choice of food and lodging accommodations."

On the first day out Farley proceeded until they reached the Wayne Motel, which is near the intersection of Routes 214 and U.S. 301 in Maryland. They had been driving south on U.S. 301 and came upon the motel between 7:30 and 8:00 P.M. There is nothing to indicate that the stop was planned in advance or that they were familiar with the place. They checked in, deposited their belongings in the cabin assigned to them and, on discovering that there were no restaurant facilities there, returned to the car and drove slightly over five miles farther south on Route 301 to Marlboro or Upper Marlboro seeking a place to dine. Robinson was not certain which town it was but it was probably the former, because he said they did not pass through any other municipality and Marlboro is the first one south of the motel. They had dinner and some beer there, after which they attended a nearby movie. Following the performance they stopped at a tavern in the same locality and consumed a "couple" of beers. Then they got into the car and started back to the motel. At this time they had no other intention; they were not going to make any other stops or go to any place other than the motel. If the visit to the movie and the tavern constituted a deviation from employment (a point which we need not decide), it ended when they headed for home. Cf. White v. Frank Z. Sindlinger , 30 N.J. Super. 525 (App. Div. 1954); 1 Larson, Workmen's Compensation , ยง 19.25 (1956).

Farley was driving as usual. Robinson was not at all familiar with the roads and it does not appear that his companion had any greater knowledge. The most direct return course would have been north on Route 301. Where the tavern was with respect to this highway is not shown by the testimony. Whether Farley (who was not called as a witness) in proceeding from that point, by mistake found himself on Route 4 (Marlboro Turnpike) headed west, can only be conjectured, but to say that he took that road by design is likewise surmise. Robinson was not aware that they were moving west. So far as the actual proof shows, their only destination was the motel.

In any event, when the accident occurred they were a few miles out on Route 4 and near the intersection of Ritchie Road which runs generally north and a little westward into Route 214, an east-west roadway. As already mentioned, the motel is located near the intersection of Routes 214 and 301 and, judging by the map in evidence, about eight miles east of Ritchie Road. Whether Farley intended to turn into Ritchie Road and head north, or go on to the next cross street and turn there, or whether he even knew he was off his course cannot be said. Somewhere near Ritchie Road, Farley was blinded by the lights of an oncoming car and went off the roadway into a telephone pole, injuring Robinson.

Respondent assumes that the testimony establishes the location of the pole as 100 feet west of or beyond Ritchie Road. That fact is not at all clear in the record. The question put to Robinson and his answer are:

"Q. The nearest intersection is what is known as Ritchie Road and the location of the pole about 100 feet west or beyond the intersection of Ritchie Road and Marlboro Pike; is that right? A. That sounds like the street, Ritchie Road, I believe. I don't know."

And the immediately preceding question and answer were:

"Q. That [referring to the pole] was located at an intersection of what is known as Marlboro Pike of -- or Route ...

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