Court Reverses Denial of Benefits to a Traveling Employee
Court Reverses Commission’s Denial of Benefits to a Traveling Employee – Bank Manager Injured in Public Parking Lot is Entitled to Benefits.
Laverne Kertis v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and Washington Mutual Inc., 2013 Ill. App. (2d) 120252WC (Filed June 18, 2013).
Petitioner was employed by respondent as a branch manager for two different branches of the employer’s bank. One branch was located in Hoffman Estates, Illinois and the other in St. Charles, Illinois. During the course of his job duties, petitioner traveled almost daily to two different branches. Neither branch offered parking for customers or employees. Petitioner was therefore required to park on the street or in a municipal lot. On August 28, 2008, petitioner went to work at the Hoffman Estates in the morning. In the midafternoon, petitioner drove to the St. Charles office to attend a closing. He parked in a public parking lot and began to walk to the office. He stepped into a pothole while avoiding an oncoming car and fell injuring his back.
He filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits and the employer denied liability claiming that petitioner was at no greater risk than the general public. After a trial, the arbitrator ruled in the employer’s favor and denied the case. Petitioner appealed and in a split decision the Commission affirmed the denial.
Petitioner appealed to the Circuit Court which affirmed. Petitioner appealed to the Appellate Court which reversed. The Appellate Court ruled that petitioner was a traveling employee. The Appellate Court ruled that for traveling employees the issue was not whether petitioner was exposed to a risk not common to the general public, but instead whether petitioner’s actions at the time of his injury were reasonable and foreseeable. The court stated “The determination of whether an injury to a traveling employee arose out of and in the course of employment is governed by different rules than are applicable to other employees…A traveling employee is deemed to be in the course of his employment from the time he leaves home until he returns. An injury sustained by a traveling employee arises out of his employment if he was injured while engaging in conduct that was reasonable and foreseeable, i.e., conduct that ‘might normally be anticipated or foreseen by the employer.’”
In this case, it was easy for the court to reverse finding that petitioner is walking from a municipal lot to his office was both reasonable and foreseeable. It was irrelevant as to whether or not he was exposed to a risk greater than that of the general public since the rules that apply to traveling employees are different.
Comment: Petitioner in this case testified that he had to travel between the two branches almost daily. The employer did not offer any evidence to contradict this, although they argued that petitioner was not required to travel between the offices frequently. The employer argued that petitioner only needed to travel occasionally.
Frankly, it would not matter if petitioner had to travel frequently or only occasionally. On the occasions that he had to travel, he became a traveling employee.
Illinois case law is favors employers on the issue of “arising out of the employment.” Claimants are held to a higher standard than in other states. However, that higher standard does not apply to traveling employees. This case decision reiterates that traveling employees really do not need to prove that their accident arose out of their employment. A traveling employee’s accident will be found compensable so long as the traveling employee was engaged in activity which was reasonable and foreseeable at the time of the accident. This is a vastly different standard.