As one who is addicted to Starbucks, and frequently stops there on my travels to and from court, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at a recent case that addressed this issue. The case of Jesse Cooper v. Barnickel Enterprises, Inc., decided by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, on October 15, 2009, caught my attention. Mr. Cooper was a master plumber and foreman and was authorized to use his employer’s truck to drive to and from work, and between jobs. On Saturday, February 2, 2003, after going to a job site, he went to the union hall to discuss plans for a new job with a union instructor. When he got to the union hall the instructor was busy teaching a class. Mr. Cooper felt he could not interrupt the class, so he decided to take a coffee break and return to the union hall at lunch time to talk to the instructor.
Since no coffee was available at the union hall on Saturdays, Mr. Cooper decided to drive the employer’s truck to a delicatessen about five miles away. While on his way Mr. Cooper suffered serious injuries after getting in an automobile accident.
The court found that going for the coffee did arise out of the course of his employment since while waiting for the instructor “petitioner took his regular paid coffee break and went to get some coffee up the road at a place he knew had good coffee.” The employer’s position was that this was a purely personal errand, and should not have been covered under the workers’ compensation statute. The court found that Mr. Cooper was an offsite employee, who had to wait to meet with someone and was not expected to “…stand like a statue or remain at the union hall with nothing to do for such a period, particularly when there was no coffee available at the site.”