Illinois Supreme Court Considers Dispute Over Commuting Worker Injured in Car Accident

The Illinois Supreme Court has taken a case for consideration dealing with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission as to an employee’s commute from a motel to a job site. The issue in the case is whether the employee is covered for his injuries by the Workers’ Compensation Act when he was on his way from his motel (temporary living quarters) to his job site. The Supreme Court will look at whether the jobsite is linked closely enough to the worker’s employment so that the injuries he suffered in a car accident on the way to work are compensable. 

The law does not usually consider injuries while commuting to or from work as compensable unless the travel is a result or requirement of the job.

In 2006, the plaintiff, Ronald Daugherty of Springfield, Ill., took a temporary pipefitting job with The Venture-Newberg Perini Stone & Webster, which is a contractor working on a nuclear power plant in Cordoba, Ill.,  owned by Exelon Corp.  Daugherty was injured in a car accident on his way to work from his motel. As a result of his injuries, he filed a workers’ compensation claim. 

Daugherty and a fellow pipefitter, both from the Springfield area, took a job at the plant in Rock Island County, Ill., about 200 miles from his home. Daugherty took this job because his local union could not find him work within his normal work area. To avoid the long commute from his home, Daugherty stayed in a nearby motel. The motel was about 30 miles from the job site. 

The Illinois Supreme Court will answer the question as to whether Venture-Newberg’s expectations for the employees to stay near the plant during off-hours required Daugherty to stay at a motel overnight. Venture-Newberg argued that since it never explicitly required or directed Daugherty to stay anywhere besides his home, and the fact that Daugherty accepted this job 200 miles from his home, his motel stay was not a work requirement.

At the arbitration level in the workers’ compensation claim, the arbitrator ruled that Daugherty’s injuries from the car accident did not arise “out of and in the course of” his employment; the arbitrator denied the claim.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC) however, reversed the arbitrator’s ruling in a split decision on the grounds that the job’s demands to stay nearby made it job-related. 

Then the case went on to an appeal to the Sangamon County Circuit Court, where the IWCC decision was reversed. On appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court, Fourth District, the IWCC ruling in favor of compensation was reinstated. 

According to Daugherty’s attorney, Venture-Newberg would have to prove that Daugherty did not fit the definition of a traveling employee. 

Venture-Newberg’s attorneys have said that the Illinois Supreme Court will not decide whether traveling employees are compensable, but rather where the law determines an employee’s main work premises are when he or she is contracted to a third-party’s site. 

The Illinois Supreme Court should make more certain and definite what an employer’s premises are by definition. 

The Venture-Newberg Perini Stone & Webster v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, et al., No. 115728.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling construction injury cases and worker injury cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 37 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Joliet, Lockport, Bolingbrook, Romeoville, Waukegan, Crystal Lake, Grayslake, Morton Grove, Chicago (Rogers Park), Addison, Frankfurt, Midlothian, Chicago (Andersonville), LaGrange and Lyons, Ill.

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