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Saunders v. Industrial Commission

January 21, 2000

TIMOTHY R. SAUNDERS, APPELLANT,
v.
THE INDUSTRIALCOMMISSION ET AL. (BELOIT CORPORATION, APPELLEE).



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rathje

Agenda 32-September 1999.

Claimant, Timothy R. Saunders, worked for Beloit Corporation as a dispatcher. On May 16, 1994, Saunders was injured when a forklift operated by his co-worker, Jan Gundry, ran over his left ankle. Saunders filed an application for adjustment of claim, and the parties proceeded to arbitration. The arbitrator denied compensation, finding that Saunders' injury did not arise out of his employment. The Industrial Commission (Commission) adopted the arbitrator's findings, and the circuit court confirmed the Commission's decision. Saunders appealed, and the Industrial Commission division of the appellate court affirmed the denial of compensation. Two judges of the appellate court filed a statement that the case involved a substantial question that warranted review by this court, and this court granted Saunders' petition for leave to appeal. See 177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a).

BACKGROUND

The witnesses disagree as to how Saunders' injury occurred. Saunders testified that, at the time of his injury, he was traveling from the shipping department to the office to retrieve his lunch. Because he "had a limited time" for break, Saunders hitched a ride on a forklift operated by Gundry. Gundry's forklift was designed to be operated by one person only and was not large enough to seat two passengers. Moments before the accident, Saunders dismounted and began walking along the left side of the forklift. After Saunders took four or five strides, Gundry began to make a right turn, causing the left rear tire of the forklift to run over Saunders' left ankle. From the time he dismounted to the time of the injury, 5 to 10 seconds elapsed. Gundry corroborated Saunders' version of the accident.

Keith Smithson, a Beloit employee who witnessed Saunders' injury from a distance of 15 to 20 feet, gave a different account. While returning from a restroom break, Smithson saw Saunders riding double on Gundry's forklift. Saunders was riding in "a sidesaddle position," with his left leg hanging off the left side of the forklift. As Gundry began to make a right turn, Saunders stepped off the forklift and caught his left foot beneath the tire. Saunders immediately fell to the ground without taking any steps.

Although the witnesses gave differing accounts of the accident, all of the witnesses agreed that Beloit's safety rules strictly prohibited employees from riding double on a forklift. Saunders, Gundry, and Smithson had attended Beloit's safety training sessions, and they all were aware of Beloit's rule against riding double on forklifts. According to Smithson, the rule against riding double "is a known rule in the plant." David Kessler, Beloit's safety administrator, testified that the rule against riding double on forklifts was communicated to employees through training sessions, monthly safety "contacts," and an employee handbook that all employees receive. Dean Waters, a union representative, likewise confirmed that Beloit conducted training sessions on forklift safety and that Beloit's safety rules prohibited employees from riding double on forklifts.

As to the enforcement of the rule against riding double on forklifts, the witnesses again were more or less in agreement. Saunders testified that, during his 17 years at Beloit, the rule was violated "approximately maybe 10 times." Gundry testified that he had transported a supervisor on his forklift three or four times in the past 14 years and that Saunders was not the first co-worker to ride on his forklift. Smithson, who has worked for Beloit for 17 years, had never before witnessed another co-worker riding double on a forklift. When Waters, the union representative, was asked how many times he had seen the rule violated during his eight years at Beloit, he responded, "I couldn't give you a number. There wouldn't be that many times."

The arbitrator denied Saunders' request for compensation, concluding that Saunders' ankle injury did not arise out of his employment. In reaching this conclusion, the arbitrator specifically found that Saunders and Gundry were not credible witnesses, while Smithson, who "had no reason to demonstrate any bias in his testimony," was credible. The arbitrator further found that:

"the accident was caused by an activity of the Petitioner which did not arise out of his employment. Petitioner's activity in violating the safety rule and riding double on the forklift vehicle was not in furtherance of any aspect of Petitioner's employment. Riding on the forklift vehicle had nothing to do with Petitioner's job, it was not part of his job responsibilities, and it was of no benefit to the employer for Petitioner to ride double on that vehicle."

The arbitrator held that "the activity of riding double on the forklift was not within the scope of the Petitioner's employment" and "created an unreasonable risk beyond that to which Petitioner would be exposed during the course of his employment."

Saunders appealed to the Commission, and the Commission adopted the arbitrator's findings. The circuit court of Winnebago County confirmed the Commission's decision, and the Industrial Commission division of the appellate court affirmed the circuit court. This appeal followed.

ANALYSIS

The sole issue in this appeal is whether the Commission's decision denying Saunders' claim was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We hold that it was not.

To be compensable under the Workers' Compensation Act, the injury complained of must be one "arising out of and in the course of the employment." 820 ILCS 305/2 (West 1998). An injury "arises out of" one's employment if its origin is in some risk connected with or incident to the employment, so that there is a causal connection between the employment and the accidental injury. Parro v. Industrial Comm'n, 167 Ill. 2d 385, 393 (1995). An injury is received " `in the course of employment [if] it occurs within a period of employment, at a place where the worker may reasonably be in the performance of his duties, and while he is fulfilling those duties or engaged in something incidental thereto.' " Parro, 167 Ill. 2d at 393, quoting Scheffler Greenhouses, Inc. v. Industrial Comm'n, 66 Ill. 2d 361, 367 (1977). The occurrence of an accident at the claimant's workplace does not automatically establish that the injury arose ...


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