Will an employee get workers’ comp benefits for an injury he suffered while on a short, paid break?
Richard Potter was a car salesman for Paolozzi Imports.
Potter asked his supervisor to briefly leave work to pick up two spaghetti dinners for the company’s finance manager and bring them back to the dealership. The finance manager had purchased the dinners as part of a fundraiser sponsored by a football team that Potter helped run as a volunteer. Potter drove his own car to pick up the dinners.
It wasn’t unusual for salespeople to leave the dealership on short paid breaks.
Potter was injured in a car crash while returning from picking up the dinners. He’d only been gone about 15 minutes.
A workers’ comp law judge found Potter’s injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment and awarded benefits. The dealership and its insurance carrier appealed. The workers’ comp board affirmed the judge’s ruling. Paolozzi Imports then took the case to the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court.
The appeals court noted rulings in two previous cases that applied here:
- “Accidents that occur during an employee’s short breaks, such as coffee breaks, are considered to be so closely related to the performance of the job that they do not constitute an interruption of employment” (Pabon v. New York City Tr. Auth.), and
- Benefits are awarded “on the theory of constructive control of the employee by the employer during the off-premises activity” (Balsam v. New York State Div. of Empl.).
The court ruled that Potter’s short break didn’t constitute an interruption of employment. For that reason, the court affirmed the workers’ comp board ruling that Potter should receive comp benefits for his injuries.
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(Potter v. Paolozzi Imports, NY Supreme Court, Appellate Div., 1/5/12)
You can download a PDF of the court’s decision here.