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Ricciardi v. Damar Products Co.

Decided: June 14, 1965.

JOSEPH RICCIARDI, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
DAMAR PRODUCTS COMPANY, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT



For reversal -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices, Jacobs, Francis and Schettino. For affirmance -- Justices Proctor, Hall and Haneman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Weintraub, C.J. Proctor, Hall and Haneman, JJ. (dissenting).

Weintraub

[45 NJ Page 58] Petitioner seeks an award under the workmen's compensation law by reason of the death of his wife. He prevailed in the Division of Workmen's Compensation, but the County Court reversed upon a finding that petitioner was not a dependent of the decedent. The Appellate Division affirmed the County Court, finding both (1) that the accident did not occur in the course of employment and (2) that there was no dependency, one judge however disagreeing with the first of these findings. 82 N.J. Super. 222 (1964). We granted certification. 43 N.J. 354 (1964).

I.

The deceased was killed on July 2, 1960 in an automobile accident while returning home from a picnic sponsored by her employer. With respect to liability for compensation, the issues are twofold: (1) whether the picnic was an event within the coverage of the statute and (2) whether the statute protected the deceased in going to and from the picnic.

The facts are not-in dispute. The picnic was suggested by an employee. The employer thought well of the idea, its vice-president testifying that "We had a very successful Christmas party in 1959, which made the people and the management of the Company so pleased that we wanted to continue on an entertainment basis in some form or another, twice a year." The company paid about 98 percent of the expenses of the picnic, the union contributing the balance. The vice-president just referred to said "It was good for the Company," explaining that the outing was intended to improve relations between employees and employer and among the employees. The company and its two affiliates are engaged in the mail order business in which there is a fluctuating need for help and hence a high rate of labor turnover.

The picnic was held on a non-working day. No one was required to attend, but management wanted a good turnout and the employee committee formed with management's approval urged all employees to attend. The president of the company spoke at the picnic and awarded some six or seven savings bonds for perfect attendance during the first half of the year. The employer thought enough of the event to schedule another picnic for the following year.

We think it clear the picnic was sponsored by the employer in part at least to further its own interests. That the employees were free to attend or to stay away is not a critical fact. Nor is it decisive that wages were not paid those who did appear, see Van Ness v. Borough of Haledon, 136 N.J.L. 623, 626 (E. & A. 1948); Filson v. Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc., 82 N.J. Super. 185 (App. Div.

1964); Ryan v. St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church, 41 N.J. Super. 206, 210 (App. Div. 1956), or that the picnic was held at a place other than the work premises. Rather the question is whether the event is sufficiently work-connected to bring the employees within the coverage of the compensation law, a law which provides protection for employees, not because of fault or failure of the employer, but rather upon the belief that the enterprise itself should absorb losses which inevitably and predictably are an incident of its operations.

Where, as here, the employer sponsors a recreational event for the purpose of maintaining or improving relations with and among employees, the employees gratify the employer's wish by attending and thus serve the employer's business aim. It therefore is correct to say the Legislature intended the enterprise to bear the risk of injuries incidental to that company event. Hence the picnic itself was a covered affair. In point is Kelly v. Hackensack Water Co., 10 N.J. Super. 528 (App. Div. 1950), Id., 23 N.J. Super. 88 (App. Div. 1952). The controlling doctrine is expounded in Complitano v. Steel & Alloy Tank Co., 34 N.J. 300 (1961), reversing the judgment of the Appellate Division upon the dissenting opinion therein of Judge Conford, 63 N.J. Super. 444, at p. 456. See Cuna v. Board of Fire Commissioners, Avenel, 42 N.J. 292, 305-306 (1964); cf. DuCharme v. Columbia Engineering Co., 31 N.J. Super. 167 (App. Div. 1954).

Had the deceased suffered her fatal injuries at the picnic, the accident would be compensable under the cases just cited. Here the fatal accident occurred on the trip home and hence the further question is whether the compensation statute covers that travel. The facts are that it was expected the employees would arrange among themselves for transportation, and two of the executives made their cars available for the transportation of those who could not. We gather the deceased was taken to the picnic by a coemployee and was being driven directly home from the picnic by another employee when she was killed.

Our cases accept as a general rule the proposition that an employee is not covered while going to or from his regular place of work. O'Brien v. First Camden National Bank & Trust Co., 37 N.J. 158, 162 (1962); Morris v. Hermann Forwarding Co., 18 N.J. 195 (1955); Moosebrugger v. Prospect Presbyterian Church, 12 N.J. 212 (1953). That rule is not free from dispute since travel to and from the place of work quite ...


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