Injury Compensable Where Employee Was On The Way To Work

In Venture-Newberg Perini Stone and Webster v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, the injury victim appealed the decision of the Sangamon County court. The facts are close, and probably could have gone either way at the commission. In one sense, they did go both ways, with the arbitrator ruling against the victim and the commission ruling in his favor.

The claimant was a fifty year old pipe-fitter who lived in Springfield, Illinois. He was a Union member with the Plumbers & Pipe-fitter Union, Local 137. As a Union member he would bid for his job. The respondent was a contractor that was hired to perform maintenance work in Cordova, Illinois, which is between 200 to 250 miles away from Springfield, but in the range of the pipe-fitters. The positions at the Cordova Plant were temporary and expected to last a few weeks.

The claimant and his friend reported to work. The two men spent the night at a hotel which was located about thirty miles from his job site. The men were scheduled to begin work at 7:00 in the morning, so they got up at 6:00 to drive to the job site. The claimant was a passenger in the car, driven by his friend, which skidded on a patch of ice. The claimant was seriously injured in the car accident.

The claimant testified that his employer had requested the employees to be within an hour of the job site so that they are alert and ready for work. They had to be available, at all times, to come in early or stay late, but you had to stay within a certain parameter of the plant. He also testified that he did not want to have to work twelve hours and then drive home and he planned on staying at the Lynwood Lodge because the job site was so far away from his home. He did say that he was not instructed to stay at the lodge. The respondent did not reimburse him for travel or lodge or pay him for the money he spent traveling to the job site. He also indicated he did not have to be in early and was not “on call” status at the time of the accident. He never expressed the request to reside closer to the job site. However, he felt driving 200 miles to and from the job site would make it hard for him in the event of an emergency.

Based on the above evidence, the arbitrator concluded he failed to sustain his burden of proving that his motor vehicle accident arose in the course of the employment at Venture-Newberg. The commission reversed the decision, concluding this did arise out of the course of his employment at Venture-Newberg.

The commission, and the appellate court, based their opinions on law that says that generally, employees who are traveling to and from work are not allowed to collect workers’ compensation. There is, however, an exception for “traveling employees.” A traveling employee is one who is “required to travel away from his employers premises in order to perform his job.” The appellate court and the commission concluded that he was a traveling employee. However, a mere finding of traveling employee is not sufficient to sustain the burden that the injury arose out of and in the course of employment. The appellate court said that the test of whether a traveling employee’s injury arose out of and in the course of his employment is the “reasonableness of the conduct” which he was engaged at the time of his injury and whether that conduct might have been anticipated or foreseen by the respondent.
The appellate court concluded that the finding of the workers’ compensation commission was not against the manifest weight of the evidence so that an opposite conclusion must be clearly apparent.

It should be noted in this matter that the appellate court probably would have sustained the finding that this was not a compensable claim if the workers’ compensation commission had so found. This case was based on the manifest weight of the evidence standard, and unless the commission abuses its discretion in applying that standard, the decision of the commission is to stand. The appellate court ruled that the trial court should not have taken the case away based on what the commission did. This case could have gone either way at the commission level, not at the trial court level.

If you have a workers’ compensation claim please contact Ackerman Law Office, P.C. We understand and know the law about workers’ compensation in Illinois. We actively handle workers’ compensation claims. Jim Ackerman has taught numerous classes to lawyers and to workers’ compensation professionals about workers’ compensation. Contact our office at (217)789.1977 or fill out this form.