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Workers’ Comp Caselaw Update – Spring 2011

By Christopher Galanos

Personal Deviation Does Not Preclude Benefits for Traveling Employee “On His Way Home”

In Cox v. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, the Appellate Court reversed the Commission and awarded benefits to a traveling employee.

Petitioner was assigned an employer-owned vehicle for 24-hour-a-day use for job-related activities. On July 27, 2006 the Petitioner left work with his employer’s permission to attend a doctor’s appointment.  Petitioner traveled towards his home to retrieve his personal vehicle before attending the doctor’s appointment. On the way to his home, Petitioner deviated from his normal route home and stopped at a bank.  Petitioner left the bank continuing to drive home. Petitioner was involved in a car accident with injuries, after leaving the bank, but prior to returning to his normal route home.  The Appellate Court found compensability citing the general rule that a traveling employee is in the course of his employment from the time that he leaves home until he returns. An injury is compensable as long as he was engaged in an activity which was both reasonable and foreseeable. At arbitration, it was disputed whether the petitioner had gone to the bank for business or personal purposes.  The Appellate Court dismissed this dispute noting the key fact was the Petitioner started traveling home again after visiting the bank.

The Appellate Court stated that the true inquiry was whether or not the Petitioner was “on his way home.” This leaves open the question as to what the outcome would have been if the Petitioner had been injured in the exact same location, but on his way to the bank, rather than leaving it.  The decision underscores the need to investigate all facts of a traveling employee claims.

Former Employee Injured During IME Is Not in the Course of Their Employment with Respondent.

In Menard v. Illinois Worker’s Compensation Commission, the Petitioner filed an application for adjustment of claim alleging that she suffered a work-related injury due to “anxiety/mental illness caused by conflicts while working for Respondent.” The Respondent later terminated the Claimant’s employment. After terminating her, the Respondent requested an independent medical examination, pursuant to Section 12. While in Chicago for the examination, the Petitioner slipped on some ice, resulting in injury.  The Petitioner alleged that the back injury was related to her employment as the only reason she went to Chicago was for the IME at Respondent’s direction.

Citing the 1948 case Skelgas v. Industrial Commission, the Appellate Court affirmed the  Circuit Court finding that the Act does not provide coverage to injuries occurring at an employer-mandated physical examination when the claimant is no longer an employee at the time of the IME.  Although this is a relatively rare scenario, it is one area of the law that is clear, at least for now, when determining whether an injury arises out of, and in the course of, the petitioner’s employment.

Law of the Case Doctrine Applies in Worker’s Compensation Cases

In Help at Home v. The Illinois Worker’s Compensation Commission, the Arbitrator found, at a 19(b) hearing, that the Petitioner met her burden of proving causal connection with regard to a shoulder injury.  The Commission reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings and specifically provided that, “On remand the Arbitrator may consider any additional evidence with respect to causal connection of the right shoulder incident.”

The Respondent sought judicial review of the order allowing the Arbitrator to consider additional evidence. The Circuit Court upheld the order and the Respondent appealed to the  Appellate Court. In reversing the Commission, the Court stated that it was error to allow the Arbitrator to consider additional evidence with regard to causal connection due to the Law of the Case doctrine. The doctrine states that when an issue that has been litigated and decided, it settles the question for all subsequent stages of the action. Because the Petitioner never sought review of the Commission’s decision, the finding that she did not prove causal connection became the law of the case, and the Arbitrator was prohibited from reviewing additional evidence on that issue. The lesson to be taken from Help at Home is that it is imperative to seek review of any negative finding, if there is a good faith basis to do so, otherwise the issue will be settled in situations where the case is remanded for further proceedings.

Originally published in the Spring 2011 edition of Quinn Quarterly.