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Bagcraft Corporation v. Industrial Commission

December 23, 1998


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rakowski

Appeal from the Circuit Court Will County. Honorable William Penn, Judge Presiding.

Section 11 of the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) precludes an employee from recovering for accidental injuries incurred while participating in voluntary recreational activities, unless the employee was ordered or assigned to participate in the activity. 820 ILCS 305/11 (West 1996). Illinois courts, however, have also long adhered to the traveling employee doctrine, which allows an employee to recover for injuries he sustained during reasonable and expected activity while traveling away from home, even if that activity was recreational in nature. In this case, employer contends that, unless a traveling employee is assigned or ordered to participate in the recreational activities from which the injury arose, section 11 precludes recovery. In effect, employer argues that section 11 abrogates the traveling employee doctrine with respect to recreational activities. We disagree and affirm.



Shirley Bolda (claimant), the widow of Richard Bolda (decedent), filed an application for adjustment of claim under the Act, seeking compensation for decedent's death. Decedent was a plant manager for Bagcraft Corporation (Bagcraft), a company that produces paper bags and other flexible packaging supplies. On September 20, 1990, the day of decedent's death, he was 55 years old and had worked for Bagcraft for 12 years.

Rhinelander Paper Company (Rhinelander) is a subsidiary of Wausau Paper Company and was one of Bagcraft's major suppliers of paper. For at least three years prior to September 1990, Rhinelander had invited Bagcraft to send a group of its employees to visit its paper mill and to stay over night at its company lodge in Wisconsin. Although Marshall Rodin, the former president of Bagcraft, testified that the trips to Rhinelander had no real business importance, the testimony of decedent's colleagues as well as memoranda that were distributed prior to the trip reveal that the trip was for business purposes and that decedent was recommended to go on the trip partly because he was familiar with Rhinelander's product and could contribute to the meetings.

The agenda and activities for this trip were the same as the previous trips. On Thursday morning, September 20, Rhinelander sent its corporate plane to Chicago. Rhinelander's sales people greeted the Bagcraft group at the airport and flew with them to Wisconsin. Upon arriving in Wisconsin, Rhinelander transported the Bagcraft contingent to its paper mill.

Rhinelander gave the Bagcraft employees a tour of the mill. After the tour, the parties met and discussed general business and quality issues, including baggy sheets of paper and pin holes in the paper. When the meetings concluded around 2:30 p.m., Rhinelander drove the Bagcraft employees to Wausau's lodge, where they spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening.

At the lodge, Bagcraft employees and a couple of Rhinelander's sales people participated in a wide range of recreational activities together, including trapshooting, riding all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), fishing, walking, and hiking. The Bagcraft employees were also free to simply sit around or play pool at the lodge. These activities were available in preceding years and were described in a folder of information that Rhinelander gave the Bagcraft employees before reaching the lodge.

Decedent and James Allen, a co-worker, decided to go for an ATV ride. While riding back to the lodge, decedent unexpectedly flew over the handle bars of the ATV and struck a tree. He suffered a severe head injury and died shortly after reaching the hospital.

The accident upset the remainder of the agenda. However, on previous trips, more Rhinelander employees would arrive before dinner. The parties would discuss business issues as well as other topics during and after dinner. On this trip in particular, Rhinelander planned to show a film about Rhinelander after dinner.

The arbitrator found that decedent's fatal injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment. Specifically, the arbitrator found that decedent was a traveling employee and that riding an ATV was a reasonable and foreseeable recreational activity under the circumstances. The Commission affirmed and awarded claimant burial costs and death benefits. The circuit court confirmed the Commission's decision. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 301, allowing appeals from final judgments. 155 Ill. 2d R. 301.



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