In Henry Keim v. Above All Termite & Pest Control (A-30-22/087603) (Decided November 21, 2023), the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that an employee’s car accident occurred “in the course of employment” and was therefore compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act).
In reaching its decision, the Court clarified that an employee is “in the course of employment” under the “authorized vehicle rule” prescribed by the Act when (1) the employer authorizes a vehicle for operation by the employee, and (2) the employee’s operation of that identified vehicle is for business expressly authorized by the employer.
Facts of Keim v. Above All Termite & Pest Control
Above All Termite & Pest Control (Above All) employed Henry Keim as a salaried pest-control technician and provided him with an employer authorized vehicle for work use. In compliance with company policy, Keim drove that vehicle in the morning from his own residence to various worksites and returned home in the same vehicle at the end of the workday.
Above All’s policy limited the quantity of supplies technicians could keep in their authorized vehicles overnight. When technicians needed to replenish supplies, Above All authorized them to drive their vehicles to Above All’s shop instead of driving directly to a worksite, to retrieve whatever they required, and then to go from the shop to the scheduled sites.
On the morning of the accident, Keim clocked in, received his schedule, and concluded that his vehicle lacked sufficient supplies. On his way to the shop for supplies, Keim sustained injuries in a car accident.
The Judge of Compensation dismissed Keim’s claim petition with prejudice, concluding that Keim was merely commuting to work when he sustained injuries.
The Appellate Division, however, disagreed with the Judge of Compensation’s conclusion that Keim was simply commuting to work. Applying N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, the court determined that Keim sustained injuries while in the course of his employment because he operated an “employer authorized vehicle” and was on business “expressly authorized and directed by his employer.”
NJ Supreme Court’s Decision in Keim v. Above All Termite & Pest Control
The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed. It held that Keim was “in the course of employment” under the “authorized vehicle rule” at the time of the accident because Above All authorized a vehicle for him to operate and his operation of that identified vehicle was for business expressly authorized by Above All.
In reaching its decision, the Court analyzed the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act and the four distinct rules that govern when an employee is considered to be “in the course of employment” under the Act: the “premises rule”; the “special mission rule”; the “paid travel time rule; and the “authorized vehicle rule.”
Because Keim argued that his injuries are compensable under the “authorized vehicle rule,” the Court focused on that rule, which provides that “the employment of . . . any employee who utilizes an employer authorized vehicle shall commence and terminate with the . . . authorized operation of a vehicle on business authorized by the employer.”
The Court went on to hold that based on the plain language of the “authorized vehicle rule” in N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, an employee is “in the course of employment” when (1) the employer authorizes a vehicle for operation by the employee, and (2) the employee’s operation of that identified vehicle is for business expressly authorized by the employer.
“Here, consistent with the ‘authorized vehicle rule,’ the employer, Above All Termite & Pest Control (Above All), provided a vehicle and authorized the employee, Keim, to operate that vehicle to replenish supplies at a particular location as needed. Keim was thus ‘in the course of employment’ when he drove his authorized vehicle to obtain the supplies and was injured in a serious car accident,” the Court explained. “As a result, he is entitled to benefits under the Act.”