Employee Traveling to Worksite From Home Not Covered by Workers’ Compensation
Persistence Pays Off – Ted Powers in Our Office Wins a Big Case for Employers before the Supreme Court of Illinois.
Employee traveling to a worksite from his home held not to be covered by workers’ compensation – Appellate Court Decision reversed.
The Venture – Newberg – Perini, Stone & Webster v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and Ronald Daugherty, Docket No. 115728, 2013 IL 115728, Decision Filed December 19, 2013.
This case involved an odyssey for my partner, Ted Powers. I had initially evaluated the case years ago and concluded that the case was not compensable. Therefore, we denied the claim and lengthy litigation ensued. Attorney Powers did all the hard work and had to fight a long battle all the way to the Supreme Court in order to get justice for the employer.
The petitioner, Ronald Daugherty, was a resident of Springfield, Illinois and he worked as a pipefitter out of Local Union 137 based in Springfield, Illinois (central Illinois). As a member of Local 137, he was to work only in his local territory, but he was allowed to work in other territories if local work was not available.
Petitioner learned of a job with respondent that was located in Cordova, Illinois, about 200 miles from Springfield (northwest Illinois). The job at the Cordova plant required petitioner to be working seven days a week, 12 hours a day. Due to the distance from home and long hours, petitioner and a fellow union member decided to stay at a local motel near the job site.
Petitioner and his associate first reported to work at the Cordova plant on March 23, 2006. They worked that day and that evening they spent the night at the Lynwood Lodge, about 30 miles away. The men were scheduled to start work the following day at 7:00 a.m. At 6:00 a.m., petitioner and his associate were driving to work in the associate’s pickup truck. The associate skidded on ice and crashed. Petitioner suffered very serious injuries.
Petitioner’s job at the Cordova plant was intended to be only temporary. Under union rules, members are terminated upon completion of each job and are expected to find a new position through the union.
Petitioner testified that the employer wanted workers to be staying within an hour’s drive of the plant so they would be available for work when needed. However, there was no requirement that employees live or stay extremely close to the job site. Petitioner was not paid any travel expenses for traveling to the Cordova location. He was not paid any travel time whatsoever.
After hearing the evidence, the arbitrator properly ruled the case not compensable. The arbitrator found that petitioner was not a traveling employee.
Petitioner appealed to the Commission and the Commission in a split decision reversed. The majority found that petitioner was a traveling employee. They found that petitioner’s course or method of travel was determined by the demands and exigencies of his job rather than his personal preference. The Commission found that petitioner was not required to stay in the local area, but as a practical matter, he had to stay within a reasonable commuting distance from the plant. The Commission found petitioner was a traveling employee and ruled the case compensable.
We appealed on behalf of the employer to the Circuit Court and the Circuit Court properly reversed the Commission and reinstated the arbitrator.
However, Petitioner appealed to the Appellate Court and the Appellate Court in a split decision reversed the Circuit Court and reinstated the Commission decision. The Appellate Court found that petitioner was a traveling employee.
The employer granted us leave to petition to appeal to the Supreme Court. Appeals to the Supreme Court are not automatic. A party must petition to appeal and the Court must agree to accept the case.
The Supreme Court did accept the case and in a six to one decision reversed the Appellate Court and found the case not compensable.
The court analyzed the case law involving traveling employees and found the case law distinguishable. The court found that petitioner was not a traveling employee. The court noted that petitioner was not a permanent employee of the employer. In fact, he had not even worked for the employer on a long term exclusive basis. He had only worked for the employer on four other short term projects over the last two years. Further, the court noted that nothing in petitioner’s contract required him to travel out of his union’s territory to take this position 200 miles away. Petitioner himself made the voluntary, personal decision that the benefits of the job and the pay outweighed the personal cost of traveling. Petitioner was hired to work at a specific location and he was not directed by the employer to travel away from this worksite to any other location. Petitioner simply traveled to the premises as did all other employees. Petitioner was not reimbursed any travel expenses, and he made his own travel arrangements. Based on this evidence, the court held “the Commission’s conclusion that Daugherty was a traveling employee was against the manifest weight of the evidence.”
The court also found that the Commission erred in concluding that the demands and exigencies of the job justified a conclusion that the case was compensable. The court noted that petitioner’s choice and method of travel was not directed by the employer. Petitioner chose to stay at a motel closer to the worksite, but this was a personal decision. Nothing in petitioner’s contract required him to travel out of his union’s territory to take this job. It was petitioner’s personal preference to accept the position and the travel distance that it entailed. Although petitioner testified that it was his understanding that the employer wanted workers to be within an hour’s traveling distance from the plant, there was no evidence that this was required or even suggested by the employer. Further, petitioner and his co-employee were not instructed to ride together, but instead made the personal decision to do so in order to save money.
The court held “While there is no question that Daugherty was seriously injured, the facts of this case do not support Daugherty’s argument that he was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Daugherty made the personal decision to accept a temporary position with Venture at a plant located approximately 200 miles from his home. Venture did not direct Daugherty to accept the position at Cordova, and Daugherty accepted this temporary position with full knowledge of the commute it involved. Daugherty was not a traveling employee.
Additionally, Daugherty’s course or method of travel was not determined by the demands and exigencies of the job. Venture did not reimburse Daugherty for travel expenses or time spent traveling. Venture did not direct Daugherty’s travel or require him to take a certain route to work. Instead, Daugherty made the personal decision to accept the position at Cordova and the additional time and travel risks that it entailed.”
Comment: The facts of this case unquestionably merited this result. Case law gives extreme deference to traveling employees. Clearly, petitioner was not a traveling employee. This case did not merit compensation. Petitioner was seriously injured, but this was a personal motor vehicle accident. Any employee can be involved in a personal motor vehicle accident while traveling back and forth to work. Case law has repeatedly stated that traveling back and forth to work is not compensable. The fact that petitioner decided to work at a job site that was far from home should not have made the case compensable.
Cases involving workers’ compensation rarely get heard by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court designates the Industrial Commission Division to the Appellate Court to rule on cases like this. However, Attorney Powers was able to convince the court to take the case because of the terrible Appellate Court ruling. Fortunately, justice finally prevailed for this employer and excellent case law has been established by the Court which will benefit employers and carriers throughout the state.