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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.
John H. Geaney, Esq., is an Executive Committee Member and a Shareholder in Capehart Scatchard's Workers’ Compensation Group. Mr. Geaney concentrates his practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, third-party administrators, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. Should you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Mr. Geaney at 856.914.2063 or by e‑mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.