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Green v. Industrial Commission

August 17, 1999


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rakowski

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Rock Island County. Honorable Ronald C. Taber, Judge Presiding.

This case raises a question of jurisdiction involving the tension between competing policies of federal and state law. The question is whether claimant Haskel Green, an injured seaman, may pursue workers' compensation benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1998)) or whether he is limited to benefits under federal law, specifically, the Merchant Marine Act (Jones Act) *fn1 (46 U.S.C. app. §688 (1994)). The arbitrator found that the Jones Act was claimant's exclusive means of recovery, precluding application of the Workers' Compensation Act. Adopting the arbitrator's decision, the Industrial Commission (Commission) affirmed, a decision that was confirmed on administrative review.

Although the Commission's decision will cause claimant to fall into a void of coverage lying between federal and state law remedies, we nonetheless find that claimant's status as a seaman precludes application of the Act in this case. We therefore affirm.

I. Background

Claimant was employed by Schadler Enterprises and Joe Schadler (collectively employer) as an entertainer on employer's Queen of Hearts Showboat (Queen of Hearts). The Queen of Hearts is a 400- passenger excursion boat. It was docked in Moline, Illinois, and traveled the Mississippi and the Ohio Rivers. Dinner cruises lasted about 2 1/2 hours and traversed 15 to 16 miles. The longest cruises stretched as far as 75 to 100 miles.

Claimant began working for employer in 1990, at which time he also signed a contract. Claimant typically performed his show, the "Buddy Green Show," on dinner cruises. His contract required him to be available for two shows a night, six nights a week. Claimant did not sleep or eat on the Queen of Hearts; nor did he have a dressing room.

In addition to performing on the boat, claimant did promotional work for employer that took him on land. He recorded radio and television commercials to promote the Queen of Hearts, requiring some work to be performed on land as well as on the boat. He also photographed some of employer's attractions including the Queen of Hearts, a tram on Arsenal Island, and the Jubilee. These photographs were placed in pamphlets advertising employer's attractions. Other land-based work included positioning guests boarding the boat for photographs during the 1990 showboat season, negotiating the photograph development agreement for the development of these photographs, and making a phone call on behalf of the employer regarding a dispute. However, employer did not reimburse claimant for these extra services.

Claimant further claimed that he performed his show on land both during the off season and a couple of times during the season at employer's request. However, the testimony of employer and Robin Lindley of Quad City Attractions indicates that, at the most, employer directed or paid claimant to perform two shows prior to 1991 out of an approximate total of 14 shows that claimant performed on land while Ms. Lindley organized and paid claimant for almost all of the other land- based shows. Claimant contracted and dealt separately with Ms. Lindley. The only benefit realized by employer from the shows he did not arrange was that those who saw them might book cruises on the Queen of Hearts through Ms. Lindley's Quad City Attractions business. Ms. Lindley testified that she was not reimbursed by employer and that employer was not a party to any contracts between her and claimant.

On September 23, 1993, claimant experienced low back pain while doing an Elvis Presley imitation during a performance. On October 9, 1993, during a dinner cruise performance, claimant again suffered severe low back pain and spasms, causing him to collapse on stage. Following the accident, he began treatment with a neurosurgeon and subsequently underwent back surgery and physical therapy. Claimant has not been released to return to work.

Claimant received some benefits under the Jones Act. Specifically, he has received approximately $1,500 in maintenance and approximately $37,000 in cure for medical bills.

II. Analysis

As stated at the beginning, this case reveals the tension in determining whether an injured maritime employees is limited to recovery under the Jones Act or whether he can seek workers' compensation under Illinois law. In answering this question, we first conclude that claimant is a seaman and that the Jones Act would therefore apply exclusively. We, however, then address claimant's contention that he falls into a "twilight zone" of jurisdiction and that, as a result, he should be entitled to workers' compensation benefits. This argument, which has been made numerous times before other courts, must be rejected. Although we believe this case presents important reasons to permit recovery under the workers' compensation laws of Illinois, like the courts before us, we conclude that we are without the power to do so.

A. The Jones Act and Claimant's Seaman Status

In his reply brief, claimant seemingly admits that he is a seaman even though he makes a great effort to outline all the land-based work he allegedly performed for employer. Nevertheless, because we ultimately conclude that injured seamen cannot recover under the Workers' ...

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