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08/25/89 Auto-Trol Technology v. the Industrial Commission

August 25, 1989





545 N.E.2d 939, 189 Ill. App. 3d 1065, 137 Ill. Dec. 178 1989.IL.1305

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Alexander P. White, Judge, presiding.


PRESIDING JUSTICE BARRY delivered the opinion of the court. McNAMARA, WOODWARD, McCULLOUGH, and LEWIS, JJ., concur.


The petitioner, Robert Gasparich, filed an application for adjustment of claim under the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 48, par. 138.1 et seq.) for injuries he received in an accident on August 22, 1982. Following a hearing, the arbitrator found that the petitioner had sustained permanent, totally disabling injuries arising out of and in the course of his employment with the respondent, Auto-Trol Technology Corporation. The arbitrator further found that the petitioner was entitled to receive from the respondent, inter alia, payment for all necessary medical, surgical, and hospital services and the sum of $227.89 per week for life, pursuant to sections 8(a) and 8(f) of the Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 48, pars. 138.8(a), 138.8(f)). The Industrial Commission (Commission) affirmed the arbitrator's decision, and the circuit court of Cook County confirmed the Commission's decision. The respondent appeals.

The record shows that the petitioner was employed by the respondent as a field engineer. The respondent was in the business of selling, installing, and maintaining computer systems utilized in designing and producing manufacturing equipment. Alex Strazzanti, the regional manager in charge of sales, was responsible for supervising the sales personnel. John Krakar, the regional manager in charge of installation and maintenance, supervised the field engineers. Krakar and Strazzanti would meet to discuss problems concerning the working relationship between the sales personnel and the field engineers. Krakar testified that in an attempt to strengthen that relationship, the field engineers tried to get together with their sales counterparts every summer.

In August of 1982, Krakar and Strazzanti met to discuss problems which had developed between their respective divisions. It was decided that the two groups of employees needed to get together in a setting away from the office and attempt to work out their difficulties. They were unable to secure a pavilion in a local forest preserve for the event, so Strazzanti offered the use of his home. Krakar and Strazzanti planned and organized the event. They scheduled the picnic for Sunday, August 22, 1982, and posted an announcement in the office. The parties stipulated that this announcement was drafted by a secretary and not by Krakar. Spouses were invited, but the announcement requested that children not attend.

Krakar testified concerning a conversation he had with the petitioner on the Friday afternoon before the picnic. The petitioner asked Krakar if it was mandatory that he attend the function. Krakar told him "that it would serve his career very well if he attended [the] function." Krakar further testified that a couple of weeks earlier he had emphasized the importance of working with the sales staff. According to Krakar, the petitioner was present when he made that point. The petitioner testified that he was unable to recall the picnic or anything which had taken place in the days before the accident.

Ronald Zivic, a field engineer working out of the Milwaukee office, testified that Krakar had told him he had to come to the picnic and spend time with his counterparts. Zivic told Krakar he had other plans and Krakar said, "o, you will be there." Zivic changed his plans and attended the picnic. The record shows that only two field engineers did not attend the function. One engineer's wife was expecting a baby and the other was in a family wedding.

At the picnic, food and beverages were served and those attending played touch football and bocci ball. Krakar and Strazzanti organized teams for the games so that engineers and sales people would be mixed together on each team. Krakar instructed the engineers to spend time with their respective counterparts in sales at the picnic. Zivic testified that "a lot" of business was discussed.

Zivic and his brother Ken, who was also a field engineer, discovered a motorcycle in Strazzanti's garage. Strazzanti commented that the motorcycle had not run for a year. Eventually, the Zivics were able to get the motorcycle in running order. Both Zivics took the motorcycle for a brief ride. Strazzanti voiced concern about the safety of the motorcycle, but said it was okay after riding it himself. The petitioner was the fourth person to ride the motorcycle. After riding around the block, he turned into Strazzanti's driveway. As he did so, the motorcycle suddenly accelerated, cut across two lawns, and hit a neighboring house. The petitioner was found unconscious under the motorcycle.

The record shows that the petitioner sustained extensive head injuries and was in a coma for a number of weeks. It also shows that in the opinion of Dr. Mary Keen, his treating physician, the petitioner was totally disabled.

At the arbitration hearing, a copy of a letter addressed to the Industrial Commission from James E. Wilkes, the respondent's director of human resources, was admitted into evidence. In the letter, Wilkes stated: "As the employer, we feel that the occurrence should be covered under ...

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