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Stevenson Olds Sales & Serv. v. Ind. Com.

OPINION FILED JANUARY 9, 1986.

STEVENSON OLDS SALES AND SERVICE, APPELLEE,

v.

THE INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION ET AL. (MERLE GARRISON, DECEASED, BY GERTRUDE GARRISON, APPELLANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of La Salle County;, the Hon. Thomas R. Flood, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE BARRY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Based on the death of her husband, Merle Garrison (the decedent), the petitioner, Gertrude B. Garrison, sought death benefits under section 7 of the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 48, par. 138.7) for herself and her adult son. The Industrial Commission awarded benefits. The circuit court set aside the award, and this appeal followed. The petitioner argues in the instant appeal that the decedent's accidental death arose out of and in the course of the decedent's employment with the respondent, Stevenson Olds Sales and Service. We reverse and reinstate the award.

The underlying facts are virtually undisputed. For approximately 27 years, the decedent worked for the respondent automobile dealership in Ottawa. At the time of his death, he received a weekly salary as the respondent's service manager. The respondent supplied the decedent, as it supplied several other employees, with an automobile for performing company business and for personal use. On December 10, 1980, at approximately 5:30 p.m., the decedent was killed in a collision with a truck while he was driving a company car from work at the respondent's Ottawa business place to the decedent's residence in Marseilles.

The company cars which the respondent supplied for the decedent's use were generally newer cars. They bore dealer plates and a small sticker with the respondent's name on the rear. They were owned and maintained by the respondent. The decedent occasionally used a company car for company business. The decedent would, on occasion, pick up a customer's car and leave the company car on loan to the customer. That service might be in response to a call from a customer to the decedent's home. Additionally, the decedent would sometimes use a company car to drive to a service call from his Ottawa work site or from his Marseilles home. The decedent would also sometimes road-test company cars. Occasionally, the decedent referred automobile sales opportunities to the respondent.

The arbitrator found that it was to the respondent's benefit that the decedent had a car at home for publicity purposes, for loans to customers, or if the decedent were called at home for an emergency. The arbitrator awarded compensation to the petitioner but denied compensation to the decedent's and petitioner's adult son.

On review, the Commission found that the decedent's use of the respondent's company car benefited the respondent as it assisted the decedent's job performance, aided the respondent's customer relations, and offered community promotion of the respondent's business. Further, the Commission found that the decedent's accidental death was compensable under the Act as it arose out of and in the course of the decedent's employment. Additionally, the Commission found the decedent's son to be handicapped, and modified the arbitrator's decision, awarding benefits to that son.

On certiorari, the circuit court found that the decedent's death did not occur in the course of his employment. Accordingly, the circuit court set aside the Commission's award of benefits, as aforesaid.

The petitioner argues that whether the decedent's accidental death arose out of and in the course of his employment was a fact determination resolved by the Commission for which support can be found in the evidence, and that the circuit court improperly set aside the award because it did not find the Commission's decision to be against the manifest weight of evidence. The petitioner asserts that the decedent drove his company car home for the benefit and accommodation of the respondent and that by supplying the decedent a company car used to perform beneficial services for the respondent the respondent expanded both the range of the decedent's employment and the attendant risks.

The respondent asserts that the circuit court was presented with a question of law and correctly concluded that the decedent's injury neither arose out of nor occurred in the course of the decedent's employment. It raises no question as to the adult son's qualification for compensation.

• 1 Generally, an employee's injury sustained in transit between the employee's home and place of employment does not arise out of and in the course of employment and, therefore, is not covered under the Act. (Sjostrom v. Sproule (1965), 33 Ill.2d 40, 210 N.E.2d 209.) However, exceptions to that rule include where the employee is injured while he is away from his job premises but acting for the benefit or accommodation of his employer (International Art Studios v. Industrial Com. (1980), 83 Ill.2d 457, 415 N.E.2d 1031), and where the employer expands the range of the employee's employment by providing transportation to be used for the employer's benefit. See Hindle v. Dillbeck (1977), 68 Ill.2d 309, 370 N.E.2d 165; Sjostrom v. Sproule (1964), 49 Ill. App.2d 451, 200 N.E.2d 19, aff'd (1965), 33 Ill.2d 40, 210 N.E.2d 209.

We agree with the respondent that where the essential facts are undisputed, whether an injury arose out of and in the course of employment presents a question of law. (Osborn v. Industrial Com. (1971), 50 Ill.2d 150, 277 N.E.2d 833.) However, this case presented some factual questions for the Commission. Most significantly, it was within the province of the Commission to determine whether the decedent's driving his company car home inured to the respondent's benefit. The Commission decided that question in the affirmative. If that factual finding were supported by the evidence, it would be binding upon reviewing courts. Newgard v. Industrial Com. (1974), 58 Ill.2d 164, 317 N.E.2d 524.

The Commission was presented with evidence that under the respondent's automobile arrangement with the decedent, the respondent benefited by the decedent's displaying the respondent's automobile. Perhaps more significantly, the Commission also received evidence that the respondent benefited through the customer service provided by the decedent's use of the company car both from the decedent's work place and from the decedent's home. This is not a case where the injury occurred during a purely personal use of the automobile, occurring, for example, after the decedent had driven the automobile home for an evening or weekend. Neither is this a case where compensability was asserted merely because of the injury occurred while the injured was in a company car. Rather, the injury here occurred as the decedent transported the company car between the two bases from which the record shows he was most likely to use it for the respondent's customer service.

• 2 We find ample evidence to support the Commission's apparent finding that the respondent benefited from the decedent's driving a company car between his residence and his workplace. Given the conclusiveness of the Commission's findings of fact, we find that the circuit court erroneously determined that the decedent's injury was not compensable. Rather, we find that the decedent's injury arose out of and in the course of the decedent's employment, and thus was compensable, as it occurred while the decedent was acting for the respondent's benefit, using transportation which expanded the range of the decedent's employment.

Accordingly, the judgment of the circuit court of La Salle County is reversed and the award of the ...


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