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Gelman: Element of Compulsion Validates 'Special Mission' Doctrine

  • State: New Jersey

The New Jersey Appellate Division conducted an insightful analysis of the "special mission" doctrine in affirming a workers’ compensation award to an employee who suffered severe injuries when a tank loaded with acetylene gas exploded in this car.

Jon L. Gelman

Jon L. Gelman

The employee was en route to deliver the tank to a customer of the employer, off-hours, and with his personal vehicle and not under direct orders from his employer.

The court reasoned in the unpublished decision that "direction" was not an essential element of the special mission doctrine. However, the court determined that the factor of “motivation” was critical in validating that the accident occurred “in the course of the employment.”

The court stated: 

Nevertheless, the B-tank's presence in petitioner's personal vehicle is a relevant consideration in examining the special mission to pick up Dietrich. The explosion would not have happened without the B-tank being in petitioner's personal vehicle. The compensation judge found, however, that petitioner's sole motive in placing the B-tank in his vehicle was to facilitate a delivery for his employer. The compensation judge also found that the B-tank was an instrumentality of the employer. Consequently, that no one directed petitioner to place the B-tank in his personal vehicle does not take the accident outside of the special mission to pick up Dietrich. See Ehrgott, 208 N.J. Super. at 398-99 (noting that NJSA 34:15-36 prescribes just two conditions for the application of the special-mission exception); see also White v. Atl. City Press, 64 N.J. 128, 138 (1973) (noting that a hazardous risk is not beyond the scope of employment ‘merely because it is heightened by an employee's "foolhardy," "negligent" or "foolish" actions); Green v. De Furia, 19 N.J. 290, 299-300 (1955) (finding that employee should not be denied compensation despite disobeying his employer's order not to leave the work site because he did so "in order to fulfill the duties of his employment"). This opinion shall not constitute precedent or be binding upon any court. Although it is posted on the internet, this opinion is binding only on the parties in the case and its use in other cases is limited. R. 1:36-3. Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.

Claimants' attorney Jon L. Gelman is the author of "New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Law" and co-author of the national treatise "Modern Workers’ Compensation Law." He is based in Wayne, New Jersey. This blog post is republished with permission.

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