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Complete Vending Services Inc. v. Industrial Commission

Illinois Appellate Court

May 26, 1999


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County No. 97MR429 Honorable Patrick J. Dixon, Judge, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rarick


Industrial Commission Division

Claimant, John Thompson, sought benefits pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1996)) for injuries sustained on July 9, 1996, while in the employ of Complete Vending Services, Inc. (employer). The arbitrator awarded claimant medical and temporary total disability benefits after finding the accident arose out of and in the course of claimant's employment. The arbitrator further awarded penalties pursuant to section 19(l) of the Act (820 ILCS 305/19(l) West 1996)). On appeal, the Industrial Commission (Commission) affirmed the decision of the arbitrator, and the circuit court of Kane County confirmed the decision of the Commission. Employer appeals both the decision in favor of claimant and the award of penalties. Claimant requests an additional award of penalties pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 375(b) (155 Ill. 2d R. 375(b)) for employer's pursuit of a frivolous appeal. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

At the time of the accident involved here claimant had worked for employer almost 20 years, the last 5 of which were as a service technician. As a service technician, claimant was on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year to repair employer's vending machines in his designated service area. His normal working hours were 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and his duties involved repairing vending machines and rebuilding equipment in one of employer's shops when not out on service calls. Claimant drove a company vehicle to and from work and for all service calls. Employer purchased the van and provided the license plates and insurance for the vehicle. Gas for the van was paid for with employer's credit card. Claimant was not permitted to drive the company van for any personal uses, and, in fact, mileage to and from his home was added to his W2 Wage and Tax Statement at the end of the year.

The night before the accident, claimant was contacted by employer's answering service informing him that Central Du Page Hospital had a machine down and wanted it fixed. Claimant called the contact person at the hospital, and it was then decided he could wait until first thing in the morning to repair the machine. The next morning, July 9, 1996, claimant left home at approximately 8:15 a.m. His intention was to stop in at the office on the way to Du Page Hospital to tell them where he was going and to see if any other service calls had come in that he could make while out. The office was directly on the route to the hospital. Claimant was approximately two miles from his home when the accident occurred. Claimant lives approximately five and a half miles from employer's office. Claimant testified he looked down to grab a cup of coffee he had brought from home when he rear-ended a garbage truck. Claimant sustained a significant laceration to his forehead, which required plastic surgery, and a right ankle fracture with dislocation, which required an open reduction with internal fixation to repair the damage. At the time of the arbitration hearing in December, claimant still had hardware in his foot, as he had yet to experience a union of the fracture site and had not been released to return to work. Employer initially paid claimant five weeks of wages and then stopped all payments.

The determination of whether an injury arose out of and in the course of a claimant's employment is a question of fact, and the Commission's resolution on such issue will not be disturbed unless it is against the manifest weight of the evidence. Beattie v. Industrial Comm'n, 276 Ill. App. 3d 446, 449, 657 N.E.2d 1196, 1199 (1995); Bradley Printing Co. v. Industrial Comm'n, 187 Ill. App. 3d 98, 103, 543 N.E.2d 116, 119 (1989). A decision is against the manifest weight of the evidence only where an opposite Conclusion is clearly evident. Caterpillar, Inc. v. Industrial Comm'n, 228 Ill. App. 3d 288, 291, 591 N.E.2d 894, 896 (1992). We cannot say an opposite Conclusion is clearly apparent in this instance.

Generally, an accident occurring while an employee is traveling to or from work is not considered as arising out of or in the course of employment. Martinez v. Industrial Comm'n, 242 Ill. App. 3d 981, 985, 611 N.E.2d 545, 548 (1993); Bradley Printing, 187 Ill. App. 3d at 103, 543 N.E.2d at 118; Hall v. DeFalco, 178 Ill. App. 3d 408, 413, 533 N.E.2d 448, 452 (1988). The rationale underlying the rule is that the employee's trip to and from work is the result of the employee's decision about where to live, which is a matter of no concern to the employer. Martinez, 242 Ill. App. 3d at 985, 611 N.E.2d at 548. There are, however, several exceptions to the rule. One such exception pertains to the traveling employee (Bradley Printing, 187 Ill. App. 3d at 103, 543 N.E.2d at 118), where travel is necessitated by the employment, as in the case of a traveling salesman driving to or from sales calls (Millen v. Industrial Comm'n, 124 Ill. App. 3d 321, 324, 464 N.E.2d 289, 291 (1984)). Another exception to the rule exists when an employer provides a means of transportation to or from work for employer's own benefit. See Stevenson Olds Sales & Service v. Industrial Comm'n, 140 Ill. App. 3d 703, 705, 489 N.E.2d 328, 330 (1986). In this instance, claimant's employment has elements falling under both of these exceptions. Accordingly, it was reasonable for the Commission to conclude claimant's injuries stemming from the accident of July 9 arose out of and in the course of his employment. As a service technician, claimant was on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year. Employer provided him with a company-owned vehicle with company license plates and insurance. Even gas was paid for by employer. Claimant was not allowed to drive the vehicle for personal uses, and, in fact, when not on service calls, was "charged" for the mileage to and from his home. He was, however, compensated an additional $25 per service call outside his normal working hours. The night before the accident, claimant was contacted via employer's answering service that he was needed to service a machine. After a call to the customer, it was determined claimant could wait until morning to make the needed repairs. Claimant left his residence the next morning with the intention of making the service call. He testified he had decided to stop in at the office first, which was directly on the way to the service call, to inform them of his whereabouts and to check to see if any other calls for service had come in which he could make while out on this particular call. As the arbitrator specifically noted, employer obviously was gaining a benefit in having claimant stop at employer's office before making the service call. Clearly claimant was not operating or acting outside the course of his employment at the time of the accident. Given all of the circumstances presented--employer providing the transportation and claimant acting pursuant to his job requirements and for the benefit of employer--we cannot say the Commission erred in finding compensability.

With respect to the issue of penalties, generally penalties will not be imposed when the employer reasonably and in good faith could have believed that the employee was not entitled to compensation. General Refractories v. Industrial Comm'n, 255 Ill. App. 3d 925, 931, 627 N.E.2d 1270, 1275 (1994); Miller v. Industrial Comm'n, 255 Ill. App. 3d 974, 979, 627 N.E.2d 676, 680 (1993). In this instance, the arbitrator awarded penalties after finding that employer's argument, based on the mere fact that claimant had to "reimburse" employer for his travel to and from work, was irrelevant to a determination of whether claimant met one of the exceptions for compensability. Claimant also contends employer has no valid argument either before the arbitrator and Commission or on appeal. Yet, one commissioner did agree with employer's arguments and concluded claimant was injured on his own personal time while traveling to work. The Dissenting commissioner believed claimant's commute to the office the morning of the accident was no different from any other employee's commute to work or, for that matter, claimant's regular commute to work. The service request the night before obviously was not an emergency call, as claimant decided to handle the request the next day in his normal course of work activities. Claimant encountered the same risks as usual, risks which were no greater than those encountered by the general public each day traveling to and from work. Accordingly, the Dissenting commissioner concluded claimant was not a traveling employee at the time of the accident. The nonpayment of disability benefits was therefore reasonable, as there was a valid dispute as to whether claimant's accident arose out of and in the course of his employment. Because penalties are not intended to inhibit contests of liability made in good faith and because the facts presented are somewhat unique, we conclude the imposition of penalties was inappropriate in this instance. And, given the fact that one commissioner Dissented, it also is unreasonable to impose penalties upon employer for bringing this allegedly frivolous appeal.

For the aforementioned reasons, the decision of the circuit court of Kane County confirming the decision of the Industrial Commission pertaining to the issue of compensability and the award of benefits is affirmed. We reverse, however, the imposition of penalties.

Affirmed in part and reversed in part.



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