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County GPS System Defeats Petitioner’s Comp Claim on Appeal

By on June 22, 2017 in Key Defenses with 0 Comments

A good Global Positioning System can make all the difference in certain kinds of cases. Longstreet v. County of Mercer, A-3361-152 (App. Div. June 20, 2017) illustrates how effective this technology can be for claims involving injuries while driving work vehicles.

The case involved a claim by a heavy equipment operator against the County of Mercer.  Mr. Longstreet reported that he injured his arm when his road grader hit what petitioner believed was a manhole while snow plowing on January 27, 2015.  He reported the incident several days later.  Petitioner said he started his shift on January 26, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. and was supposed to end his shift at 3:30 p.m. on January 27, 2015.   He began the shift loading salt, utilizing a front end loader and was then instructed to begin snow plow operations on grader #57 at midnight.  Petitioner claimed the incident occurred during snow plowing at 4:00 a.m. on Nursery Road and that he brought the grader in to the County repair shop to have the blades changed.

The problem with petitioner’s version was that the GPS showed that the vehicle petitioner said he was using to plow at 4:00 a.m. was idle from midnight to six a.m.   A county witness testified that grader #57 was parked at the North Salt Dome at Mercer County Airport around midnight.  Then it was moved around 2:00 a.m. to Interstate 95 where the vehicle remained stationary until 6:38 a.m.  From 7:30 a.m. until 10:17 a.m., the grader was used only on four separate occasions on Nursery Road.

The County argued that the case must be dismissed because petitioner clearly could not have had an accident at 4:00 a.m. using grader #57 since the vehicle was not used at all until the morning hours, and then only briefly.  During trial a repair order suddenly appeared for Grader #57.  There was no repair time noted on the order.  Witnesses at the County Garage could not recall fixing this vehicle that night, but the repair order referred to grader #57.

In spite of the overwhelming evidence that petitioner could not have been injured while using grader #57 at 4:00 a.m., the Judge of Compensation found the case compensable.  The judge reasoned that it was possible that petitioner could have begun using Vehicle #57 at around midnight, switched to another vehicle after he brought grader #57 into the repair shop, and then got injured using this new vehicle.   The Appellate Division rejected this reasoning since the record showed that petitioner was adamant that he only used one grader to plow, and that was grader #57.   He never testified to using another grader, and he insisted that his injury happened in the dark of night at 4:00 a.m..  He also said that he used his personal vehicle to revisit the scene of the accident later in the morning around 10:00 a.m.

The Appellate Division reversed the ruling for petitioner and ordered a retrial of the case.  The Court said that the ruling of the Judge of Compensation was without evidential support because the GPS system established beyond any doubt that petitioner was not using Grader #57 at 4:00 a.m.  In fact, no one was using Grader #57 between midnight and 6:38 a.m.  Petitioner could not have brought Grader #57 to the county shop until after 10:00 a.m. when the vehicle was no longer being used.

The case is fascinating because without the use of a GPS system, this case would have been found compensable, as it would have been merely an issue of credibility.  The successful appeal in this case on behalf of the County of Mercer was handled by Capehart Shareholder Lora V. Northen, and her associate, John Pszwaro.

 

 

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John H. Geaney

About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, an executive committee member and shareholder with Capehart Scatchard, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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