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New Jersey Appellate Decision Based on the Workers’ Compensation Premises Rule

New Jersey
October 21, 2022
October 21, 2022
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A recent decision of the Appellate Division in Keim v. Above All Termite & Pest Control addresses the premises rule and its exceptions.

The case involved an employee working as a pesticide applicator who traveled from his home, in a company-assigned vehicle, to locations where he performed pest control off-premises. The employee, Keim, drove his company-assigned vehicle home at the end of each workday. The owner of the company made work assignments that Keim received in advance from a company-assigned iPad. Supplies needed for their worksites were kept at the employer's shop. The owner directed employees not to carry large quantities of pesticides and supplies in their company-assigned vehicles for various reasons. Whether Keim needed to go directly to a worksite or the shop to restock on supplies depended on the services he had to perform that day and the supplies available in his work-assigned vehicle. When he was on his way to the shop to refill supplies for the day, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident.

The Judge of Compensation found the case not compensable and indicated that he was not within the course and scope of his employment when driving to the office. It was argued on appeal by Keim that he was performing duties required by his employer at the time of the accident and driving an assigned vehicle to the shop to obtain supplies needed for his work for the day. Further, he argued that he was not commuting to work.

The Appellate Division first discussed the premises rule, where an injury occurring on the employer's premises is deemed to arise out of and in the course of employment. Further, the court discussed the two exceptions to the premises rule: The special mission exception and the authorized operation of a business vehicle exception. The special mission exception applies when an "employee is required to be away from the conventional place of employment for business purposes, and travel was an indispensable part of the performance of the employee's job duties." The authorized operation of a business vehicle exception involves the authorized operation of the business vehicle on business the employer has authorized. Here the court found the facts fit the authorized operation of a business vehicle exception to the premises rule.

The court also noted that when an employer directs or requires an employee to undertake an activity, that compulsion can bring an activity that is otherwise unrelated to work within the scope of employment. In its decision, the court also discussed off-premises employees and the Jumpp v. City of Ventnor decision that off-premises employees are to be compensated only for accidents occurring in the direct performance of their duties. Further, per Jumpp, the court stated that if an employee is where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to be doing, whether on or off premises, they are within the course of employment except when commuting.

The Appellate Division found Keim's injuries were compensable under the authorized operation of a vehicle exception. He was operating an authorized work vehicle in line with the directions of his supervisor when the motor vehicle accident occurred. Further, the court discussed how Keim was an off-premises employee who was told to restock his supplies at the employer's premises prior to his assignments for the day.

The court distinguished this matter from a case where an employee is only commuting to work or engaging in personal activities unrelated to work. Therefore, the court found Keim was engaged in activities within the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident and performing duties authorized and directed by his employer.