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Briggs v. American Biltrite

Decided: July 25, 1977.

ROBERT BRIGGS, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT,
v.
AMERICAN BILTRITE, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT



For affirmance -- Chief Justice Hughes and Justices Mountain, Sullivan, Pashman and Handler. For reversal -- Justices Clifford and Schreiber. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pashman, J. Schreiber, J., dissenting. Justice Clifford joins in this opinion.

Pashman

We granted the petitioner's motion for direct certification in this case pursuant to R. 2:12-2(a), 74 N.J. 155 (1977), to consider it with Watson v. Nassau Inn, 74 N.J. 155 (1977) which was also decided today. The judge of compensation awarded benefits to petitioner on the basis of the "special errand" exception to the "going and coming" rule. Observing that Watson projected the question of whether the going and coming rule should be abandoned, the parties suggested that our decision there, if answered affirmatively, would be dispositive in this case. Although we noted the persistent criticisms of the rule in Watson, 74 N.J. at 155, we continued to adhere to the rule generally and reversed on other grounds the judgment of the Appellate Division, which denied compensation. In the instant case we find that the compensation judge was correct in awarding workers' compensation benefits.

Petitioner Robert Briggs was employed by defendant American Biltrite as a tow motor operator in its tile manufacturing plant in Trenton, New Jersey. He worked in the "sip stick" department, which was one of eight departments in the plant. Since his department had been running behind schedule for several months, he had been requested to work overtime on Sundays. On a few occasions other departments had also been required to work overtime, but petitioner's department was usually the only one at work on Sundays.

Defendant maintained a parking lot adjacent to the plant where petitioner and other employees were permitted to park their cars. Petitioner sometimes drove other employees to work in his car, but he usually travelled alone. Although he was unfamiliar with the availability of public transportation on Sundays, his counsel submitted a bus schedule of the Mercer County Improvement Authority which indicated that the last bus on Sunday evenings completed its route before 11 P.M., when his shift ended.

On Friday, May 31, 1974, petitioner was sent home early because of an equipment breakdown. He was scheduled to work the next day, but he telephoned the plant and reported that he was sick. On Sunday, he left his home, intending to work the 3 P.M. to 11 P.M. shift. He was injured when another car collided with him at an intersection about two blocks from the plant. As a result of the accident, he suffered injuries which prevented him from working for the next three months. The judge of compensation found permanent partial disability of 7-1/2%, and awarded benefits which defendant has not challenged on this appeal.

"The Workmen's Compensation Act is humane social legislation designed to place the cost of work-connected injury upon the employer who may readily provide for it as an operating expense." Tocci v. Tessler & Weiss, Inc., 28 N.J. 582, 586 (1959). The statutory test for compensation is broad in scope, entitling an employee to benefits "for personal injuries * * * arising out of and in the course of his employment," N.J.S.A. 34:15-7. Hence, judicial interpretations of the particular terms in the statutory test have been expansive, in keeping with the remedial purposes of the act. Thornton v. Chamberlain Manufacturing Corp., 62 N.J. 235, 238-39 (1973).

For an injury to arise out of employment within the meaning of the act, it is not necessary that the cause of the accident be peculiar to the employer's enterprise. Geltman v. Reliable Linen & Supply Co., 128 N.J.L. 443, 449 (E. & A. 1942). A sufficient causal connection between the employment and the specific accident exists when the employee's injury is the result of a risk "which might have been contemplated by a reasonable person as incidental to his employment." Brighton v. Rumson, 135 N.J.L. 81, 84 (Sup. Ct. 1947).

Since the employer necessarily envisions that his employees will have to travel to and from work, there is an obvious link between an automobile accident during such travel

and the employment relationship.*fn1 See Bergman v. Parnes Brothers, 58 N.J. 559, 563-64 and n. 2 (1971). If the petitioner had not been scheduled to work overtime on that Sunday afternoon, he would not have been required to subject himself to the risks of travelling on the public highways. See Hornyak v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 63 N.J. 99, 108 (1973).

The more troublesome question is whether this accident also arose "in the course of" employment. That phrase has occasioned numerous decisions, in large part because of dissatisfaction with the subordinate doctrine which denies compensation for injuries during an employee's daily trip to and from his place of work. See, e.g., Levine v. Haddon Hall Hotel, 66 N.J. 415 (1975); Hornyak v. The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 63 N.J. 99 (1973); Bergman v. Parnes Brothers, Inc., 58 N.J. 559 (1971); Ricciardi v. Damar Products Co., 45 N.J. 54 (1965). While continuing to adhere generally to the going and coming rule, see Watson v. Nassau Inn, supra, 74 N.J. at 155, we have nonetheless emphasized that it should not override the basic question of whether the employee is serving an incidental interest of his employer at the time of injury. O'Brien v. First Camden Nat. Bank & Trust Co., 37 N.J. 158, 163 (1962). Thus, it is no longer true that the rule applies to off-premises trips during an employee's lunch break where the employer permits such departures and ...


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