At approximately 5:30 a.m. on April 22, 2021, a multi-vehicle accident occurred on the New Jersey Turnpike. The crash involved a FedEx truck and several other commercial vehicles. Emergency responders closed all lanes, which caused traffic to back up for a little over 30 minutes. Firefighters came to the scene to assist with the accident. Shortly after 6 a.m., the emergency crew reopened the lanes for the traffic.
The injuries an employee sustains from an accident that occurred while he was in the course of employment are the responsibility of his employer. The employer is liable for payment for the medical expenses and wage compensation to the employee. However, the employee cannot sue the employer in civil court. Under New Jersey law, the exclusive remedy for work-related injuries is worker’s compensation.
An employee may perform personal activities and remain in the course of the employment even when the acts deviate slightly from his work duties. Frolic and detour determine whether an employee is still in the course of employment while performing personal activities. A frolic occurs when the employee’s actions depart significantly from the work duties. While in frolic, the worker acts on his own authority and solely for his benefit. A detour is a slight departure from job responsibilities.
If the employee’s accident and injuries occurred during frolic, it is outside the course of employment. Therefore, the employee is not eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits. However, an accident that happens during a detour from work duties is job-related. Workers’ compensation covers the employee’s injuries arising out of an accident while in a detour.
New Jersey courts stated certain employee activities that are detours from employment obligations. They include:
- Telephone calls to babysitters and doctors
- Lunch breaks
- Coffee breaks
An employee is in the course of employment if his activities further the interests of the employer. Employment begins when the employee is at the location required to fulfill the duties of his job. Delivery trucks drivers are in the course of their employment when they travel to different places to drop off or pick up items. Some commercial truck drivers travel to provide services at homes and businesses. When they are in a motor vehicle accident while driving for their jobs, their injuries are work-related and subject to the New Jersey workers’ compensation laws. They may file a claim with their employer or the New Jersey Division of Workers’ Compensation to seek benefits for medical expenses, wage compensation and disability benefits.
Although worker’s compensation is the sole remedy for job-related accidents in New Jersey, state laws have an expection that allows employees to file a lawsuit. If a third party is responsible for causing the employee’s accident and injuries, the worker can recover his damages in civil court.
The employee could file a personal injury case against the at-fault third party. Unlike workers’ compensation claims, an employee may receive noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering. In a motor vehicle accident, the employee may seek compensation for property damage, medical expenses, lost wages, emotional distress, loss of companionship, and mental anguish.
During the civil lawsuit, the employee may receive approval of his workers’ compensation claim. After which, he begins to receive his benefits. Under New Jersey law, if an employee receives compensation from the lawsuit for the same work-related accident, he must reimburse his employer the compensation benefits he received.
The New Jersey workers’ compensation subrogation requires the employee to reimburse the employer for the monies he receives from settling or winning the civil lawsuit. Subrogation occurs when a party assumes the legal rights of another. In a work-related accident caused by a third party, the employer stands in place of the employee’s rights to recoup benefits the workers’ compensation insurance provider already paid to the injured worker. However, the employer must continue paying compensation benefits to the employee until the third party pays the settlement or judgment.
When the injured worker wins or settles his lawsuit, the employer does not automatically receive reimbursement for benefits paid to the employee. The amount of the employer’s liability for the work-related accident determines whether the employer gets repayment. If the award in the civil case is equal to or greater than the employer’s liability, the employer receives a refund. However, if the settlement or judgment is less than, the employer must pay the remainder of the liability along with the employee’s lawsuit and attorney’s fees.