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Illinos Consolidates Telephone Company v. Industrial Commission

June 15, 2000

ILLINOIS CONSOLIDATED TELEPHONE COMPANY,
APPELLANT,
v.
THE INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION ET AL. (LINDA BUDD, APPELLEE).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Montgomery County. No. 98-MR-29 Honorable David W. Slater, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rarick

Linda Budd (claimant) sought benefits pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1992)) for injuries sustained to her left ankle on October 8, 1992, while in the employ of Illinois Consolidated Telephone Company (employer). The arbitrator concluded that claimant sustained an accident arising out of her employment and awarded her temporary total disability of 2 and 3/7 weeks, medical expenses, and 15% permanent partial disability to the left foot. On appeal, the Industrial Commission (Commission) adopted and affirmed the decision of the arbitrator, with a special concurrence, and the circuit court of Montgomery County confirmed the decision of the Commission. Employer appeals contending the Commission incorrectly determined that claimant's injury arose out of her employment.

On October 8, 1992, claimant was a 38-year-old office worker who had worked for employer some 23 years. On this date, claimant fell descending steps between the first and second floors of the office building and fractured her left ankle. Claimant had left her work area on the first floor and gone upstairs to the second floor to use the women's restroom. There was no women's restroom on the first floor, and the stairs were the sole means of going and coming from the restroom. On her way back down the stairs, she fell on the landing of the stairway located midway from the top to the bottom. Claimant testified she did not know if she slipped on the last step before the landing or on the landing itself. The only thing she did know was that she ended up sitting on the landing. She further testified there was nothing out of the ordinary about the size or angle of the stairs. There were handrails along the stairs but not on the landing between the flights. The steps had rubber treads, although some may have been worn, and the landing consisted of waxed tile flooring. She did not see any liquid or anything else on the floor of the stairway before she fell, and she was not able to see anything after the fall because her glasses fell off. Claimant was wearing shoes with heels of 1 to 1½ inches at the time of the accident. She noticed nothing about her shoes that caused or contributed to the fall and has since worn the same shoes with no problems. After the fall, claimant regained her glasses and slid down the steps from the landing to the first floor and called for help. She was then taken to the hospital.

Employer first asserts on appeal that the issue of whether claimant's injury arose out of her employment is a question of law. According to employer, the facts are undisputed and are susceptible to but a single reasonable inference and, consequently, the issue presented becomes a question of law. See William G. Ceas & Co. v. Industrial Comm'n, 261 Ill. App. 3d 630, 634, 633 N.E.2d 994, 997 (1994). Claimant agrees with this proposition but points out that the facts here are susceptible to more than one inference. If more than one inference may be drawn from the undisputed facts on any issue, such an issue presents a question of fact, and the conclusion of the Commission will not be disturbed on review unless it is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. See Eagle Discount Supermarket v. Industrial Comm'n, 82 Ill. 2d 331, 337, 412 N.E.2d 492, 495 (1980); Union Starch Division of Miles Laboratories, Inc. v. Industrial Comm'n, 56 Ill. 2d 272, 275, 307 N.E.2d 118, 120 (1974) (Union Starch); William G. Ceas & Co., 261 Ill. App. 3d at 635, 633 N.E.2d at 997. We agree with claimant and accordingly apply the manifest weight of the evidence standard. And in order for the decision to be against the manifest weight of the evidence, an opposite conclusion must be clearly apparent. See Stapleton v. Industrial Comm'n, 282 Ill. App. 3d 12, 16, 668 N.E.2d 15, 19 (1996). We cannot say an opposite conclusion is clearly apparent in this instance.

In order for accidental injuries to be compensable under the Act, a claimant must show such injuries arose out of and in the course of his or her employment. See Eagle Discount Supermarket, 82 Ill. 2d at 337-38, 412 N.E.2d at 496; Nabisco Brands, Inc. v. Industrial Comm'n, 266 Ill. App. 3d 1103, 1106, 641 N.E.2d 578, 581 (1994). "Arising out of" refers to the requisite causal connection between the employment and the injury. In other words, the injury must have had its origins in some risk incidental to the employment. See Eagle Discount Supermarket, 82 Ill. 2d at 338, 412 N.E.2d at 496; William G. Ceas & Co., 261 Ill. App. 3d at 636, 633 N.E.2d at 998. "In the course of" refers to the time, place, and circumstances under which the accident occurred. See William G. Ceas & Co., 261 Ill. App. 3d at 636, 633 N.E.2d at 998. The determination of whether an injury arose out of and in the course of a claimant's employment is a question of fact for the Commission, and the Commission's determination thereof will not be set aside unless the decision is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. See Stapleton, 282 Ill. App. 3d at 15, 668 N.E.2d at 19; Elliot v. Industrial Comm'n, 153 Ill. App. 3d 238, 242, 505 N.E.2d 1062, 1065 (1987). In this instance the arbitrator concluded that claimant sustained an unexplained fall, and the arbitrator awarded benefits because unexplained falls are compensable in Illinois. See Stapleton, 282 Ill. App. 3d at 16, 668 N.E.2d at 19; William G. Ceas & Co., 261 Ill. App. 3d at 634, 633 N.E.2d at 997; Elliot, 153 Ill. App. 3d at 242, 505 N.E.2d at 1065. The Commission adopted the decision of the arbitrator. We believe this matter more closely comes within the purview of the personal-comfort doctrine. A reviewing court can affirm the Commission's decision if there is any legal basis in the record to support its decision, regardless of the Commission's findings or reasoning. See General Motors Corp. v. Industrial Comm'n, 179 Ill. App. 3d 683, 695, 534 N.E.2d 992, 1000 (1989).

According to the personal-comfort doctrine, an employee, while engaged in the work of his or her employer, may do those things that are necessary to his or her health and comfort, even though personal to himself or herself, and such acts will be considered incidental to the employment. See Hunter Packing Co. v. Industrial Comm'n, 1 Ill. 2d 99, 104, 115 N.E.2d 236, 239 (1953); see also Union Starch, 56 Ill. 2d at 277, 307 N.E.2d at 121. Using the restroom to meet the demands of personal health or comfort certainly falls within those acts considered incidental to the employment and therefore is considered to be in the course of the employment. See Hunter Packing Co., 1 Ill. 2d at 104, 115 N.E.2d at 239. Incidental acts are not within the course of employment only if done in an unusual, unreasonable or unexpected manner. Eagle Discount Supermarket, 82 Ill. 2d at 340, 412 N.E.2d at 497; Union Starch, 56 Ill. 2d at 277, 307 N.E.2d at 121. In this instance, there was nothing unusual or unreasonable in claimant's walking up to the second floor to use the restroom or in her descent back to her work area. In fact, using the stairs was the only means of access to the women's restroom. Consequently, the fact that claimant was not performing her actual job duties at the time of the accident does not foreclose her right to compensation. See Eagle Discount Supermarket, 82 Ill. 2d at 340, 412 N.E.2d at 497; Hunter Packing Co., 1 Ill. 2d at 104, 115 N.E.2d at 239. She was on employer's premises at a time when she was engaged in her employment in a place where she had a reasonable right to be. More importantly, we believe that claimant was exposed to a greater risk than the general public because she was continually forced to use stairs to seek personal comfort during her workday. Additionally, it would not have been unreasonable for the Commission to have inferred that the accident was attributable to worn stair treads, the lack of a handrail on the landing, or slipperiness of the landing itself. See Chicago Tribune Co. v. Industrial Comm'n, 136 Ill. App. 3d 260, 483 N.E.2d 327 (1985). Under such circumstances, we cannot say the Commission erred in awarding claimant benefits.

For the aforementioned reasons, we affirm the decision of the circuit court confirming the decision of the Commission.

COLWELL and HOLDRIDGE, JJ., concurring.

JUSTICE RAKOWSKI, specially concurring:

I concur with my colleagues that the Commission's decision that claimant's injury arose out of her employment is not against the manifest weight of the evidence. Because claimant was wearing high heels, some of the stair treads were worn, hand rails were not provided where claimant fell, and the stairs were slippery, the Commission could properly conclude that claimant was exposed to a risk of injury greater than that to which the general public is exposed.

I write separately in an attempt to clarify the case law regarding falls in the work place and to disagree with certain language in the majority opinion relating to the personal comfort doctrine and the concept of unexplained falls.

A. Personal Comfort Doctrine

Unlike the majority, I believe the personal comfort doctrine has no application to this case. For accidental injuries to be compensable, a claimant must show that such injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment. Orsini v. Industrial Comm'n, 117 Ill. 2d 38, 44 (1987). The personal comfort doctrine relates only to the "in the course of employment" element and not the "arising out of employment" element. See Segler v. Industrial Comm'n, 81 Ill. 2d 125, 128 (1980); Chicago Extruded Metals v. Industrial Comm'n, 77 Ill. 2d 81, 84 (1979); Union Starch, Division of Miles Laboratories, Inc. v. Industrial Comm'n, 56 Ill. 2d 272, 277 (1974); Scheffler Greenhouses, Inc. v. Industrial Comm'n, 66 Ill. 2d 361, 368 (1977); Dodson v. Industrial Comm'n, 308 Ill. App. 3d 572, 575 (1999); Karastamatis v. Industrial Comm'n, 306 Ill. App. 3d 206, 211-12 (1999); All Steel, Inc. v. Industrial Comm'n, 221 Ill. App. 3d 501, 503-04 (1991); see also 2 A. Larson & L. Larson, Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, ch. 21, at 21-1 (1999) (stating employees who minister to personal comforts do not leave the course of their employment).

In the instant case, the parties have never disputed that claimant's injury occurred in the course of her employment. To the contrary, the parties stipulated in the request for hearing form and before the arbitrator that the only issue in the case was whether her injury arose out of her employment. Moreover, appellant's brief frames the sole issue on appeal as "[w]hether the decision of the Industrial Commission finding that the employee sustained an injury arising out of her employment was erroneous as a matter of law." Thus, it is overwhelmingly clear that our only focus should be on whether claimant's injury arose out of employment, specifically, whether the claimant's act of traversing stairs exposed her to a risk of injury greater than that to which the general public is ...


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