Court rules truck stop shower not in ‘course of employment’ in workers’ comp case
August 16, 2018
A Superior Court of New Jersey appellate court panel has reversed a Judge of Workers’ Compensation’s decision in favor of a trucker who filed a claim after sustaining injuries at a truck stop due to a fall in the shower area. The appellate court denied the driver’s request for workers’ comp, stating that taking a shower was not part of his course of employment.
On April 8, an appellate court determined that Samuel Kamenetti did not qualify for workers’ compensation, taking Manalapan, N.J.-based trucking company Sangillo and Sons off the hook for medical treatment and temporary benefits. A workers’ comp court had granted Kamenetti’s motion for relief in August 2016.
In October 2015, Kamenetti was hauling produce from California to New Jersey for Sangillo. During his trip, Kamenetti stopped at a Pilot Flying J truck stop to fuel up and take a shower. While putting his boots on in the shower area, the bench he was sitting on collapsed, causing him to fall and sustain injuries.
Kamenetti informed Sangillo of the incident and drove to a nearby clinic where he was given pain medication before completing the trip back to New Jersey.
Pilot Flying J ended up settling with Kamenetti for $40,000, according to court documents.
Kamenetti went on to file a workers’ comp claim seeking medical treatment and temporary benefits. In August 2016, the Judge of Workers’ Compensation granted Kamenetti’s motion, stating that his injuries “arose out of and in the course of his employment.”
However, the appellate court referred to a 1979 amendment to the Workers’ Compensation Act that states “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.”
The amendment attempts to curtail compensability for off-premise accidents by barring recovery due to activities personal in nature, the New Jersey Supreme Court determined in a different case in 2003.
In the 2003 case, a city worker who was required to drive from site to site throughout the day was given permission to stop for food, rest breaks and to retrieve personal mail from the local post office. The driver slipped and fell while retrieving mail. The Supreme Court ruled that the city worker did not qualify for workers’ comp because “an employee who deviates from the temporal and spacial limits of his employment tasks for the sole purpose of engaging in a personal errand or activity is simply not engaged in the direct performance of duties as required by the statute.”
Citing the amended definition of “off-premises employment” and Supreme Court precedent, the appellate court ruled Kamenetti cannot claim workers’ comp.
“When he was injured, he was putting on his boots after showering,” the appellate panel opined. “He was not ‘performing his prescribed job duties at the time of the injury.’”
Kamenetti’s attorney argued two reasons why taking a shower is important: alertness and representing the company. Since Kamenetti did not testify he took the shower to stay alert, the appellate court did not buy that explanation. Regarding representing the company during a delivery, the appellate panel pointed out that the trucker was in Wyoming at the time of the incident, several days before he had to make the delivery in New Jersey.
“Kamenetti’s showering was indistinguishable from the showering of countless on-premises employees in their homes every day before going to work,” the appellate court determined. “Many of those employees shower so they will be refreshed and clean, and so they will not have body odor when they represent themselves and their company. Such employees are not ‘in the course of their employment’ if they slip in the shower or fall while putting on their clothes or shoes.”