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Alexander v. Industrial Com.





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. Arthur Dunne, Judge, presiding.


In this workmen's compensation proceeding the sole issue is whether the claimant was an employee or whether he was an independent contractor at the time of his accident. The arbitrator found that an employee-employer relationship existed between the claimant, Everett Alexander, and respondent, Bennie Rhodes. The finding of the arbitrator was affirmed by the Industrial Commission. The circuit court of Cook County set aside the decision of the Commission. The case is before this court pursuant to our Rule 302(a) (58 Ill.2d R. 302(a)).

Claimant had worked as a union carpenter in Chicago for a period of 18 years. On the day of the accident he was unemployed and looking for a job. An acquaintance introduced him to the respondent, who owned and operated the Rhodes Funeral Service in Chicago. The respondent desired to have the door of the funeral parlor's garage repaired, and asked the claimant whether or not he would be able to fix it. Claimant inspected the door, informed respondent that he could fix it, and said that it would cost "$20.00 plus materials." The respondent advanced $20 for material to the claimant, who drove to a nearby lumber yard where he had previously done business and purchased the necessary materials to repair the door. Respondent did not tell him where to make the purchase. Claimant used his own truck and tools for the job. He did not, however, have any of his ladders with him, so he used one which he had found in the corner of the garage, and which respondent told him he could use. While he was standing on the ladder repairing a latch on the door he fell, sustaining serious injury to his arm and elbow.

The question of whether claimant was an employee at the time of his accident is the critical issue in this case. Proof that a relationship of employer-employee existed at the time of the accident is an essential element of an award under the Workmen's Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 48, par. 138.1 et seq.; Wilhelm v. Industrial Com. (1948), 399 Ill. 80, 89). On the other hand, it has long been established that an independent contractor is not entitled to compensation under the Act. E.g., Meredosia Levee & Drainage District v. Industrial Com. (1918), 285 Ill. 68.

This court has frequently held that the resolution of factual disputes is squarely within the province of the Industrial Commission, and that its determination will not be disturbed unless it is against the manifest weight of the evidence. (Barricks Corp. v. Industrial Com. (1969), 44 Ill.2d 9.) However, this court has not hesitated to set aside a decision of the Industrial Commission when its finding that a person was an independent contractor and not an employee (O'Brien v. Industrial Com. (1971), 48 Ill.2d 304) or when its finding that a person was an employee and not an independent contractor (Coontz v. Industrial Com. (1960), 19 Ill.2d 574) was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We have examined the record in this case and are convinced that the finding of the Industrial Commission that the claimant was an employee at the time of his accident is against the manifest weight of the evidence, and should therefore be reversed.

In O'Brien, this court stated:

"This court has often held that the right to control the manner of doing the work is probably the most important single consideration in determining whether the relationship is that of an employee or an independent contractor." (48 Ill.2d 304, 307.)

In Henry v. Industrial Com. (1952), 412 Ill. 279, 283, this court stated:

"Other factors, such as whether compensation is on a time basis or by the job, the right to discharge, the nature of the workman's occupation, both in terms of the degree of skill required and in its kinship to the regular business of the employer, and the furnishing of materials, equipment or tools, are all to be taken into consideration."

Applying these considerations to the facts of the instant case, it is clear that the evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that the claimant was an independent contractor.

Generally, an independent contractor is one who undertakes to produce a given result, without being controlled as to the method by which he attains that result. (Franklin Coal & Coke Co. v. Industrial Com. (1921), 296 Ill. 329.) Thus, an independent contractor executes the work in accordance with his own ideas, without being subject to his employer's ideas in respect to the details of the work. (Besse v. Industrial Com. (1929), 336 Ill. 283.) In Coontz, this court stated the distinction in this manner: "[A]n employee is at all times subject to the control and supervision of his employer, whereas an independent contractor represents the will of the owner only as to the result and not as to the means by which it was accomplished." 19 Ill.2d 574, 578.

In the instant case it is clear that the respondent did not undertake to control or supervise the details of the work done by claimant. The evidence is undisputed that he simply showed the claimant the garage door and accepted the claimant's word that he could repair it. He then gave the claimant $20 and left the premises. He had given no instructions as to how to perform the work, how long the claimant had to work, or when he should quit. He was interested only in the result to be attained. It was the claimant who had complete discretion and control over the method and means by which to attain the result.

Claimant argues that the respondent, while not exercising actual control over the details of the job, had the right to do so, and that such a "right to control" by the respondent supports a finding of employee-employer relationship. This argument is untenable. There is no evidence in the record that respondent had the right to control the method or manner of work done by the claimant. The simple fact of the matter is that the respondent, a funeral director, hired claimant, a ...

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