Ph.D. Student/ Teaching Assistant is Not Covered by Workers' Compensation When Injured While Researching Dissertation


Category: New Jersey

The Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed the trial level decision in the case of High Point Insurance Co. (as subrogor of Kevin Smith) v. Drexel University

Kevin Smith was a Ph. D. student and teaching assistant at Drexel University.  On September 2, 2011, Smith was involved in a motor vehicle accident while driving back to Drexel after visiting a site in the Pine Barrens where he conducted research for his graduate dissertation.  High Point paid PIP benefits on behalf of the insured/petitioner and subsequently filed a workers’ compensation petition, as subrogor of Smith, seeking reimbursement of the PIP benefits.
The respondent, Drexel University, denied Smith was in the course and scope of his employment and a trial took place.  At the conclusion of the trial, the judge of compensation found the accident did not arise out of and in the course of Smith’s employment because his work as a teaching assistant was incidental to his education.

High Point appealed the decision and the appellate court affirmed.  The appellate court held that the judge’s opinion was based on sufficient credible evidence as the Ph.D. program did not require that Smith work as a teaching assistant.  Furthermore, that the use of the Drexel car was for his personal research and had nothing to do with his work as a teaching assistant.  The school was not in session when the injury occurred. 

For more information, please contact Jennifer G. Laver at or 856.382.1008.

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Lexi Burchmore

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