Injuries During Break Times Still Eligible for Work Comp, NY Court Says

A recent decision by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York should provide guidance for workers' compensation boards and insurance carriers tasked with determining when an employee's employment has been interrupted to the point that he or she is no longer eligible for work comp benefits after an injury.

Traditionally, it has seemed to be the case that whenever an employee is not directly and actively engaged in the duties of his or her employment, then any injury would not be covered by the provisions of an employer's workers' compensation insurance policy. While that wasn't a guarantee in every decision, it was certainly something that advisory boards and workers' compensation law judges took into account when making benefits decisions.

This new case - Richard Potter Jr. vs. VM Paolozzi Imports - sets forth a new factor to be considered in work comp cases: whether or not a paid break during which an employee performed a task with the permission of his or her employee constitutes an interruption of the employment relationship. A valid interruption of employment will disqualify a worker from eligibility for work comp benefits.

Activities occurring off-site during a point in which an employee isn't actively performing job duties are typically not covered, but in this instance, Mr. Potter had left the job site in order to pick up food for a fellow employee. He left work with the explicit permission of his employer during a paid break. He was actually returning to the office in order to assume his job duties when he was injured in an automobile accident.

He applied for and received benefits, and that award was affirmed by a workers' compensation board. Their rationale - the one which the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York adopted - was that since the employee was away from the workplace with the full blessing of his employer during a break in which he was being compensated and was performing a task for a fellow employee, the deviation from typical job duties was so intertwined with his employment that it could not constitute an interruption of his employment.

While this case will likely provide guidance for future workers' compensation law judge decisions, benefit awards are fact-specific, and denials are common. If you or a loved one has been denied work comp benefits and needs guidance about the appellate process - or you are confused about applying for benefits if you have been injured on the job - contact a skilled workers' compensation attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.