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Jumpp v. City of Ventnor

May 17, 2002

ROBERT JUMPP, JR., PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
CITY OF VENTNOR, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Division of Workers' Compensation, Department of Labor, Docket No. 1998-017257.

Before Judges Havey, Braithwaite and Coburn.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted April 15, 2002

Petitioner Robert Jumpp appeals from an order entered by the Division of Workers' Compensation denying him benefits. Petitioner, who worked on the road for respondent City of Ventnor as a pumping station operator, deviated from his assigned rounds by picking up his personal mail at the post office. While leaving the post office, he injured himself. In denying benefits, the judge of compensation concluded that petitioner was not "engaged in the direct performance of duties assigned or directed by the employer . . . ." N.J.S.A. 34:15-36. We affirm.

Petitioner's duties entailed visiting sewer pumping stations, water wells and towers on a twice-daily basis. His typical shift was from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. Ordinarily, he performed paperwork while at the public works office until 8:30 a.m. He then commenced his duties checking the six sites, utilizing a City vehicle. At each of the sites, petitioner checked the electrical or chlorine systems, alarms and other components to make sure they were functioning properly.

Petitioner usually completed these tasks by mid-morning. Often, he stopped to have a cup of coffee before returning to the public works office. He repeated the routine during the afternoon hours. Petitioner has no "standard" lunch or break time, and is permitted by his supervisor to stop for coffee or to use the bathroom facilities at local restaurants.

On May 5, 1998, petitioner followed his usual routine. At approximately 8:30 a.m. he left the office and proceeded to the Canal Pumping Station. He then went directly to the Lafayette Avenue pumping station, and then to the Number 10 tower. After completing inspection of the tower, petitioner proceeded northerly on Ventnor Avenue toward the Little Rock Avenue sewer pumping station. However, on the way he stopped at the post office situate at the intersection of Ventnor and Sacramento Avenues to check his post office box for personal mail. While exiting the post office he fell and injured his right hip.

Plaintiff testified that he normally stopped at the post office on a daily basis with the knowledge and approval of his supervisor, Thomas Klein. Klein testified and confirmed that fact, explaining:

It's not a written policy, it's - - we have a union contract which allows the men a 15-minute break in the morning and again in the afternoon.

The nature of our business is that we have people coming and going continually. If they stop to pick up something at WaWa or one of the local stores in Ventnor; pack of cigarettes, soda, Tasty-Cake, make a stop at the post office, you know, some other brief stop within the confines of the City we have no objection to that.

Citing Ward v. Davidowitz, 191 N.J. Super. 518 (App. Div. 1983), the judge of compensation concluded that petitioner's injury did not occur while in the course of his employment duties. Acknowledging that petitioner's stop at the post office was a minor "deviation," the judge observed:

Permitting employees to run minor personal errands is not unlike recreational or social activities which are now addressed in N.J.S.A. 34:15-7. Allowing them to run personal errands produces no benefit to the employer beyond an improvement in employee morale. The City of Ventnor permitted, but did not require, that employees perform minor personal errands during work. Clearly, if the petitioner had stopped for his mail after work, it would not be a compensable situation ...


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