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Gourley v. Industrial Com.





Appeal from the Circuit Court of McLean County, the Hon. Wayne C. Townley, Jr., Judge, presiding.


The sole issue in this case is whether an injury suffered by an employee while playing basketball arose out of and in the course of his employment within the meaning of section 2 of the Workmen's Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 48, par. 138.2) so as to entitle him to compensation thereunder. The arbitrator and Industrial Commission held it did not, and that decision was confirmed by the circuit court of McLean County.

Claimant, Donald Gourley, was employed by respondent, Interlake, Inc., at its Pontiac plant. He was one of eight or nine individuals, including four or five Interlake employees, who played basketball on a team in a local industrial league composed of some six teams from local businesses. He had begun playing in 1971 when one of the Interlake plant foremen asked him whether he would like to play. He played each year thereafter, although not specifically invited to do so. He injured his knee during a game on December 16, 1976, and was off work for approximately seven months, during which surgical repairs were made to the knee. He received during this period 26 weekly payments of group insurance benefits in amounts of $100, and subsequently returned to work at respondent's plant.

Since the employer's connection with the team is crucial in determining the compensability of this injury, the details of that relationship are significant. The uniforms worn by the team were paid for by respondent and bore on the back the word "Interlake." "A couple" basketballs may have been purchased by the company, and it paid the league entry fee amounting to $125 to $175. These charges were paid from the company's community relations fund, as were contributions to the Pontiac Boy Scouts, Little League and Pontiac Boys Club of America. Undisclosed amounts were also used from this fund for employee bowling activities. The Pontiac daily paper carried box scores and stories about the league teams under the heading "Pontiac Area League." The team on which claimant played was identified in the league stories as "Interlake Steel." Team practice was held at Pontiac Central gym, and the company paid a nominal rental of $3 to $5 for each practice session. Notices regarding the team could be put on the company bulletin board. Prior to the 1975-76 season all members of the basketball team had been Interlake employees, but apparently a lack of employee interest during that season made it necessary to recruit "outsiders" in order to field a team. On an earlier occasion the company's insurer may have paid for dental expense in connection with a basketball injury, but it is unclear whether, if made, the payment was from group health insurance or workmen's compensation coverage.

Neither games nor practice sessions were played on company property. Employees were not paid or given time off to practice or play, and games were always played at night or on Sunday. There were no admission charges for the games, although contributions would be solicited at half time to keep the league going. Attendance at the games consisted principally of friends and relatives of the players, players from other teams, and some school children. A former plant superintendent and his children had attended some games prior to his transfer, and the present manager of administrative services, including personnel, had attended some games when the league was first organized in 1970.

No particular recognition was accorded the team members by the company except in 1971-72, when they won the league championship in a game broadcast over the local radio station. On that occasion the company took the team members and their wives out for "dinner and drinks." Any trophies won were kept in a glass case in the main company cafeteria. The team was coached by an employee apparently chosen by the members; another employee served as coach when the regular one was absent. There is no evidence of company participation in these selections or any coaching decisions. Claimant agreed that no one had "twisted his arm" to get him to play, and there is no indication of any company official making any particular attempt to recruit players or influence employees to become team members. The evidence established that Interlake is not engaged in the manufacture or distribution of consumer products; rather, its products are designed for and sold to industrial users.

Professor Larson, in his treatise (1A A. Larson, Workmen's Compensation sec. 22, at 5-71 (1979)), states that recreational activities are within the course of employment when:

"(1) They occur on the premises during a lunch or recreation period as a regular incident of the employment; or

(2) The employer, by expressly or impliedly requiring participation, or by making the activity part of the services of an employee, brings the activity within the orbit of the employment; or

(3) The employer derives substantial direct benefit from the activity beyond the intangible value of improvement in employee health and morale that is common to all kinds of recreation and social life."

He notes that injuries may or may not be compensable depending on the differing "mix" found in the factual content:

"Most of the same variables occur: on or off the premises and in or out of working hours; varying shades of employer initiative; differences in amount of employer contribution of money or equipment; differing quantities and types of employer benefit." 1A A. Larson, Workmen's Compensation sec. 22.24, at 5-106 (1979).

The relevant cases decided by this court consider the same factors. Jewel Tea Co. v. Industrial Com. (1955), 6 Ill.2d 304, relied upon by claimant, involved an employee who was injuried during an intracompany-league softball game. The significant differences between the degree of company involvement in Jewel and here can best be demonstrated by reciting the facts of that case.

"* * * Kenneth Lejman, hereinafter referred to as plaintiff, sustained certain serious injuries while participating in a Jewel Tea Company league softball game. This league consisted of 15 teams, organized from among the employees of defendant's 153 stores in the Chicago area. The stores were divided in three divisions, each consisting of five districts, and teams were established in each district. The district teams played each other to establish a divisional champion, and ultimately the divisional champions competed to determine the league champion of the year. The divisional championship teams were awarded small trophies and the league champions were presented with larger trophies by the executives of the Jewel Tea Company at a special function. Each team was named in part after the district manager, and the team on which plaintiff played was known as `Jeffrie's Gems,' since Paul Jeffreys was the district manager. He appointed the manager-captain of the team, who, in turn, selected the players from among the full-time employees in stores within the particular district. The company, since 1949, provided balls, bats, and T-shirts bearing the district team name on the front, and the emblem `Jewel Food Stores' on the back. The employees furnished their own shoes, jackets, caps, and pants. There were no ...

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