N.Y. Court: Worker Injured on Break Entitled to Workers’ Comp Benefits

By | January 11, 2012

A New York court has ruled that a worker taking a short break does not constitute an interruption of employment, thus a worker injured during such a break is still entitled to workers’ comp benefits.

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York issued its decision last week in a case involving an injured auto salesman. The case is Richard Potter Jr. vs. VM Paolozzi Imports Inc.

In this case, the claimant was employed as an automobile salesperson when he was injured in an accident while driving his personal car during an authorized break, according to court documents.

During his scheduled shift, claimant requested and received permission from his supervisor to briefly leave work to go to pick up two spaghetti dinners for the employer’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 claimant helped run on a voluntary basis.

A Short Break Doesn’t Constitute an Interruption of Employment

A Workers’ Compensation Law Judge found that claimant’s injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment and awarded benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Board affirmed, and the employer and its workers’ compensation carrier appealed.

The appellate court agreed with workers’ comp board ruling, stating that 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.

The appellate court noted that according to the claimant supervisor’s testimony, it was customary to allow salespeople to leave the dealership on short paid breaks. The claimant requested permission to pick up the dinners for the finance manager, which required a very short drive from the dealership. Claimant had only been gone 15 minutes, and was already on his way back to the dealership, when the accident occurred, the court noted.

“We find that substantial evidence supports the Board’s determination that claimant’s short break did not constitute an interruption of employment,” the appellate court stated.

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