On appeal from the Division of Workers' Compensation.
Matthews, Furman and Havey. The opinion of the court was delivered by Havey, J.A.D.
This workers' compensation appeal raises the question of whether an employee who is injured while driving home after completion of an employment-assigned, off premises task, should be deemed to be in the "course of employment." Resolution of the issue requires us to interpret the meaning of the 1979 amendment to the Workers' Compensation Act (act) which adds a paragraph to the definition of employment under N.J.S.A. 34:15-36. The amendment, intending to provide "relief from the far-reaching effect of the 'going and coming rule' decisions by defining and limiting the scope of employment," see Joint Legislative Statement to L.1979, c. 283, reads as follows:
Employment shall be deemed to commence when an employee arrives at the employer's place of employment to report for work and shall terminate when the employee leaves the employer's place of employment excluding areas not under the control of the employer; provided, however, when the employee is required by the employer to be away from the employer's place of employment, the employee shall be deemed to be in the course of employment when the employee is engaged in the direct performance of duties assigned or directed by the employer; but the employment of employee paid travel time by an employer for time spent traveling to and from a job site or of any employee who utilizes an employer authorized vehicle shall commence and terminate with the time spent traveling to and from a job site or the authorized operation of a vehicle on business authorized by the employer. Travel by a policeman or fireman in responding to an emergency shall be deemed to be in the course of employment. [Emphasis supplied].
The judge of compensation found petitioner's accident to be compensable because petitioner had received or was entitled to receive reimbursement for travel expenses, a result clearly at variance with our holding in Nebesne v. Crocetti, 194 N.J. Super. 278
(App.Div.1984), where we stated that "[r]egardless of make-whole reimbursement for expenses, a traveling employee is not in the course of his employment . . . unless the employee is receiving employment wages for the time thus spent traveling." Id. at 281. We nevertheless affirm here, and hold that petitioner was "required by [respondent] to be away from [respondent's] place of employment . . ." and was ". . . engaged in the direct performance of duties assigned or directed by [respondent] . . ." when the accident, which caused petitioner's injuries, occurred. N.J.S.A. 34:15-36.
The essential facts are not in dispute. Petitioner was employed by respondent on a fixed salary as supervisor of the "select and pack" department. His regular work hours were from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at respondent's plant, located in Wharton, Morris County. At 4:45 p.m. on a work day, petitioner received instructions from his supervisor to report to Johanna Farms in Flemington, Hunterdon County, approximately 50 miles away from respondent's plant, no later than 10:30 p.m. in order to investigate a problem with glass products which had been shipped to Johanna Farms. In his two months of employment with respondent, petitioner had been dispatched on approximately five such assignments ranging in location from South Jersey to Connecticut. Petitioner went home at 5:00 p.m., showered and ate before leaving on the trip. He arrived there at 10:00 p.m. and worked through the night until 8:00 a.m. the following morning. On his way home he stopped at a coffee shop for breakfast and phoned in his report to respondent. After leaving the coffee shop and while proceeding homeward, petitioner blacked out at the wheel of his car and collided head-on with another vehicle on route 206 in Chester, Morris County. Petitioner's trip home from Johanna Farms to Blairstown, Warren County, was a significantly different route than his normal route home from respondent's Wharton plant. Petitioner received no additional income for the travel time to and from Johanna Farms.
Prior to the 1979 amendment to the act, the common-law rule that injuries sustained by an employee having fixed hours and place of work, while going to and from work, was not compensable, had been significantly eroded by exceptions to the rule which evolved through case law. See 1 Larson, Workmen's Compensation Law, (Bender 1984), § 15.11 at 4-3; Hammond v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 56 N.J. 7, 11 (1970); Wyatt v. Metropolitan Maintenance Co., 74 N.J. 167, 173 (1977); Hornyak v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 63 N.J. 99, 103-104 (1973).
We observed in Ward v. Davidowitz, 191 N.J. Super. 518, 523 (App.Div.1983) that the 1979 amendment was intended to exclude compensability for "lunch-break type accidents," citing Judge Napier's article "Impact of the Reform Act of 1980," 96 N.J.L.J. 17 (August 1981), where he commented that the amendment in question was:
[d]esigned to remove from compensability certain cases heretofore held compensable where special hazards existed en route to the employer's premises, off-premises injuries sustained during lunch hour and injuries sustained while traveling at the employer's direction but deviating from a direct line of travel to pursue a purely personal activity. [At 18].
A common-law exception clearly distinguishable from those cited by Judge Napier is the "special mission" exception which is ...