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Plodzien v. Township of Edison Police Department

Decided: October 7, 1988.

WILLIAM J. PLODZIEN, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF EDISON POLICE DEPARTMENT, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from Division of Workers' Compensation.

J. H. Coleman and D'Annunzio. The opinion of the court was delivered by D'Annunzio, J.A.D.

D'annunzio

The issue is whether injuries sustained by appellant, William J. Plodzien, in an automobile accident, while appellant was driving to work in his private automobile, are compensable under the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act). The Division of Workers' Compensation denied appellant's petition for benefits and we now affirm.

Appellant was a police officer when the accident occurred. He was in full uniform, including badge, handgun and ammunition and was driving to police headquarters where, upon arrival,

he would begin his tour of duty. Police department regulations permitted uniformed officers to wear their uniforms traveling to and from work, but they did not require that the uniforms be worn.

An employee is entitled to workers' compensation benefits for injuries "arising out of and in the course of employment." N.J.S.A. 34:15-7. Prior to the 1979 amendments to the Act, L. 1979, c. 283, the Act did not contain a definition of employment, and it became the courts' responsibility to develop principles "distinguishing compensable from noncompensable incidents." Livingstone v. Abraham & Straus, Inc., 111 N.J. 89, 96 (1988) (hereafter Livingstone). One of these principles, the going and coming rule, "ordinarily precluded an award of compensation benefits for 'injuries sustained during routine travel to and from an employee's regular place of work.'" Ibid. (quoting Watson v. Nassau Inn, 74 N.J. 155, 158 (1977)). However, the going and coming rule became riddled with a series of exceptions. See generally Livingstone, supra 111 N.J. at 96-103, for a comprehensive discussion of the going and coming rule and its exceptions.

One of the exceptions, established in Jasaitis v. Paterson, 31 N.J. 81 (1959), is relied upon by appellant. In that case, the Court held that injuries sustained by a policeman when he slipped on a patch of ice after stepping from a bus were compensable. The policeman was in uniform and was traveling home after his tour of duty. The Court relied on the fact that police department rules permitted Jasaitis to wear his uniform for one hour before and after his fixed duty hours. The Court reasoned that wearing the uniform served the police department's interest in the rendition of police protection in that "[h]e deters crime by his uniformed presence, acts as a haven for those in need of protection and symbolizes a safe community." Id. 31 N.J. at 86.

Jasaitis would control the present case but for the 1979 amendments which included a definition of employment:

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, fireman, or a member of a first aid or rescue squad, in responding to and returning from an emergency, shall be deemed to be in the course of employment. [ L. 1979, c. 283, Section 12; N.J.S.A. 34:15-36]

The issue is whether the Legislature, by adopting this definition of employment, superseded Jasaitis, thereby precluding compensation in the circumstances of this case.

The Joint Statement of the Senate Labor, Industry and Professions Committee indicated that the 1979 amendments would benefit employers by, inter alia, "establishing relief from the far-reaching effect of the 'Going and Coming Rule' decisions by defining and limiting the scope of employment." (Emphasis added). We recognized in Ward v. Davidowitz, 191 N.J. Super. 518 (App.Div.1983), that the benefit conferred on employers by the definition of employment was not relief from the going and coming rule but rather relief from the numerous exceptions to that rule. Id. 191 N.J. Super. at 522. Ward noted that the compensability of lunch break accidents recognized in Hornyak v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 63 N.J. 99 (1973) and Wyatt v. Metropolitan Maintenance Co., 74 N.J. 167 (1977) was one of the exceptions. Id. 191 N.J. Super. at 523. Consequently, Ward held that injuries sustained in an automobile accident which occurred while employees were returning to ...


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