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Commonwealth Edison Co. v. Ind. Com.





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County, the Hon. Richard J. Cadagin, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied November 25, 1981.

The claimants, Patricia Aulich, widow, and her three minor children, applied for workmen's compensation benefits on behalf of the decedent, Jerry Aulich, who was killed on his way home from working at the plant of his employer, Commonwealth Edison. At a hearing upon stipulated facts, the arbitrator awarded death benefits of $240.53 per week for 1,043 weeks, plus an additional week at $137.44. Additional evidence was presented before the Industrial Commission, which affirmed the decision of the arbitrator. The circuit court of Sangamon County confirmed the decision of the Commission. The employer has appealed.

The parties stipulated to the following facts. The decedent was employed by Commonwealth Edison as a maintenance electrician at the Kincaid plant and regularly worked from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. He lived in Chatham, 20 miles from the plant — a 30-minute drive. On Sunday, October 2, 1977, he received a telephone call from the plant at about 7 a.m. requesting that he report to work immediately at the Kincaid plant to repair an elevator which was out of service.

The employee's compensation was controlled by a labor agreement which provided:

"An employee called back (with or without previous notice) for work at any time outside of his regular work schedule, shall be paid a minimum of two hours straight time and a travel time allowance of two hours straight time pay. If pay for the time worked at the applicable overtime rate exceeds two hours straight time pay, the employee is to be paid at the applicable overtime rate for the hours worked and in addition will be paid the travel time allowance of two hours at straight time, unless the time worked amounts to eight hours or more, in which case no travel time allowance shall be paid."

The decedent started work at 8 a.m. and finished at 10:30 a.m. He left work in his own car and stopped to purchase gas. He was killed instantly at 11:12 a.m. when his car collided with a train at a railroad crossing 3 1/2 miles from his residence. It is believed that decedent was on his way to the Christian Church to meet his family for church services and a noon "potluck" lunch. The accident occurred 1 1/2 miles from the church.

The employer challenges the Commission's finding:

"That 2 hours travel time was intended to compensate the decedent for one hour's travel to work and one hour's travel from work. Therefore, compensation would begin on October 2, 1977 at 7:00 a.m. and end at 11:30 a.m., thus placing the accident within the period of compensation."

The employer argues that two hours' pay as a travel allowance under a labor agreement does not extend the employee's actual working time, so as to render compensable any accident occurring within such period. The employer posits that under the above-quoted findings of the Commission absurd results could be reached. For example, an employee living 10 minutes from the plant, after safely driving home, could be compensated for a fall in the shower. We agree that the Commission's findings are too broad in that an injury occurring after the employee had arrived home would not be compensable. However, the example given by the employer is not analogous to the facts in the present case.

In order for an injury to be compensable, it must be shown that the injury arose out of and in the course of the employment. Since, in the present case, the relevant facts are stipulated to by the parties, the basic question of whether the decedent's death arose out of and in the course of his employment is one of law.

The general rule is that an injury incurred by an employee in going to or returning from the place of employment does not arise out of or in the course of the employment and, hence, is not compensable. (Hindle v. Dillbeck (1977), 68 Ill.2d 309, 318; Sjostrom v. Sproule (1965), 33 Ill.2d 40, 43.) An exception to this rule occurs when the employer agrees to compensate the employee for time spent traveling to and from work.

"When the employee is paid an identifiable amount as compensation for time spent in a going or coming trip, the trip is within the course of employment. This is a clear application of the underlying principle that a journey is compensable if the making of that journey is part of the service for which the employee is compensated. * * *

[A] demonstration that travel time was specifically paid for is one of the most reliable ways of making a case for the compensability of a going or coming trip, and is ordinarily sufficient in itself to support such a finding * * ...

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