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Strzelecki v. Johns-Manville Products Corp.

Decided: June 25, 1974.

ANDREW STRZELECKI, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JOHNS-MANVILLE PRODUCTS CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



For reversal -- Chief Justice Hughes and Justices Jacobs, Mountain, Sullivan and Pashman. For affirmance -- Justice Clifford. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Jacobs, J. Clifford, J. (dissenting).

Jacobs

The Appellate Division, in an opinion reported at 129 N.J. Super. 6 (1974), set aside the Compensation Division's award of dependency benefits under N.J.S.A. 34:15-13 to the decedent Andrew Strzelecki's widow and children. We granted certification. 65 N.J. 274 (1974).

The decedent was employed by Johns-Manville Products Corporation as an associate financial analyst. In furtherance of his career he had been taking evening courses towards a master's degree in business administration. His department head at Johns-Manville, in recommending approval of his request for tuition aid for a course in business finance, made the following comment: "Course should be helpful to this employee's career at J-M." His employer agreed that, upon successful completion of the course, it would reimburse him for tuition along with student and registration fees.

The business finance course began on June 7, 1971 and was scheduled to end on August 30, 1971. The decedent attended classes two evenings a week at the Rutgers Graduate School of Business in Newark. During evenings when he had no classes he customarily studied at the Rutgers Library in Newark or the Rutgers Library in New Brunswick, the latter being closer to his Manville home. Apparently his classroom hours were somewhere between 6 and 9 P.M. and his hours for library study were between 6 and 8 P.M. The record indicates that he was a serious student and that he

was seriously pursuing his career at Johns-Manville; indeed there was testimony to the effect that his employer was considering a move to Colorado and that he planned in that event to stay with the company and move his family accordingly. He was 27 years of age when on July 1, 1971 he was fatally injured while driving from his home to study at the Rutgers Library in New Brunswick. He had arrived home from the Johns-Manville premises shortly after 5 P.M., and after having had supper, he left for the library. His wife had asked him to pick up some milk and a television switch prior to his return home that evening but the accident occurred on his direct route to the library and there is no suggestion of deviation. See Rainear v. C.J. Rainear Co., Inc., 63 N.J. 276, 284 (1973).

A petition seeking dependency benefits was duly filed in the Workmen's Compensation Division and brief hearings, unnecessarily fragmented, were finally completed. The employer did not dispute the facts as set forth but contended that the decedent's accidental death did not arise out of and in the course of his employment within the contemplation of the Act. N.J.S.A. 34:15-7. The Compensation Judge rejected this contention in an opinion which pointed out that when the employer encouraged and aided its employee financially in pursuing advanced study, it did so not by way of "gratuity" but "with an anticipated benefit to itself as well as to the decedent." He found that the Rutgers' course and the decedent's participation had become "part of the employment", that "successful completion of the course was the intended benefit both to the decedent and the respondent" and that "the completion of homework was essential to the successful completion of the course." And finally he noted that in choosing the Rutgers Library at New Brunswick for study purposes the decedent sought to benefit himself by completing the course and that "the respondent would certainly share in that benefit."

The Compensation Judge rested his award on the many cases in New Jersey and elsewhere which have allowed compensation

for accidental injuries suffered by an employee while engaged in authorized extra-work activities which were mutually beneficial to him and his employer. See Cuna v. Bd. Fire Com'rs., Avenel, 42 N.J. 292, 305-306 (1964); Saintsing v. Steinbach Company, 1 N.J. Super. 259, 263-264 (App. Div.), aff'd, 2 N.J. 304 (1949); Barbarise v. Overlook Hospital Assn., 88 N.J. Super. 253, 258-261 (Union Cty. Ct. 1965); cf. Love v. N.Y.S. Craig School, 42 A.D. 2 d 796, 345 N.Y.S. 2 d 710 (1973), aff'd, 34 N.Y. 2d 680, 356 N.Y.S. 2 d 292, 312 N.E. 2 d 476 (1974); Dimmig v. Workmen's Compensation Appeals Board, 6 Cal. 3 d 860, 101 Cal. Rptr. 105, 495 P. 2 d 433 (1972); Kenney v. Rockingham School District, 123 Vt. 344, 190 A. 2 d 702 (1963); 1 Larson, Workmen's Compensation Law § 27.00; § 27.31; § 27.32 (1972). In setting aside the Compensation Judge's award to the decedent's widow and children the Appellate Division took the rather narrow position that while the aforecited "mutual benefit" doctrine might be applied if the accident had occurred while the decedent was going to class, it could not be applied here since the accident occurred while he was going to the library to study and "the situs of his studies was his personal choice."

In Tocci v. Tessler & Weiss, Inc., 28 N.J. 582 (1959), we held that an employee who was injured during a lunchtime softball game at the employer's premises was entitled to compensation. We stressed the acknowledged liberal intendment of the Workmen's Compensation Act and pointed out that the employer's encouragement of the recreational activity bespoke its relation to the employment. 28 N.J. at 586, 593-594. In Complitano v. Steel & Alloy Tank Co., 34 N.J. 300 (1961), compensation was allowed though the injury occurred during a softball game conducted after working hours away from the employer's premises; it was an industrial league game and the employer had paid the entrance fee and had defrayed the cost of the uniforms and other equipment. In Cuna, supra, Justice Schettino noted that "[t]he rationale behind the allowance of recovery in

Complitano was the 'mutual benefit doctrine'" and that "[t]hat rule allows compensation where the employer as well as the employee receives benefits from the recreational activity." 42 N.J. at 305. In Ricciardi v. Damar Products Co., 45 N.J. 54 (1965), compensation was allowed where the employee was injured while returning from a company-sponsored picnic away from the employment premises. Chief Justice Weintraub observed that "the controlling doctrine is expounded in Complitano" and held that the employee came within the special errand exception to the "going and coming" rule. 45 N.J. at 61-62; see White v. Atlantic City Press, 64 N.J. 128, 134 (1973); Hornyak v. The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 63 N.J. 99, ...


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