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Pearson v. Industrial Commission

January 26, 2001

MARK PEARSON, APPELLANT,
v.
THE INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION, ET AL., (CLOVER TOWNSHIP FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT, APPELLEE).



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF HENRY COUNTY No. 98 MR 99 HONORABLE JEFFREY W. O'CONNOR, JUDGE PRESIDING.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hoffman

The claimant, Mark Pearson, filed an application for adjustment of claim under the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1994)), seeking benefits for injuries he received on October 7, 1994, while assisting fire fighters from the Clover Township Fire Protection District (District) in putting out a farm field fire. Following a hearing, an arbitrator issued a decision denying the claimant benefits under the Act, finding that no employer/employee relationship existed between the claimant and the District at the time of his injury. On review, the Industrial Commission (Commission) issued a unanimous decision affirming and adopting the arbitrator's decision. Thereafter, the claimant sought judicial review of the Commission's decision in the circuit court of Henry County. The circuit court confirmed the Commission's decision, and this appeal followed.

The following facts were established from the evidence presented at the arbitration hearing.

The claimant was one of the District's volunteer firemen from March 1993 through March 8, 1994. On March 8, 1994, he was terminated from that position for non-attendance at meetings.

On October 7, 1994, there was a farm field fire in rural Clover Township. The claimant and his father saw the fire and reported it to the District. After reporting the fire, the claimant and his father went to the site of the fire and waited for the District's firemen to arrive. When the firemen arrived, the claimant directed them to a gate where they could get into the field to fight the fire. The claimant admitted that, after he directed the firemen to the gate, no one asked him to remain at the scene. Nevertheless, the claimant began stomping the fire in the area of the gate.

Terry Nelson, one of the firemen at the scene, testified that the claimant offered to get his farm tractor and disk and assist in putting out the fire by disking the field. According to the claimant, Nelson asked him if he would help fight the fire with his tractor and disk. Nelson testified that he called the District's assistant fire chief, Donald McDowell, and informed him of the claimant's offer. McDowell testified that he told Nelson that the claimant's assistance "would be appreciated," and he told Nelson to have the claimant go around the fire with his tractor and disk. McDowell also testified that the fire could have been extinguished without the claimant's assistance.

According to the claimant, he went to his farm, got his tractor and disk, and returned to the scene of the fire. When he returned, several firemen directed him to the south end of the field. The claimant began disking the ground in an effort to extinguish the fire. None of the District's firemen directed the manner in which the claimant undertook to disk the field.

While the claimant was disking the field, he drove his tractor into a deep washout. His left foot was pinned between the clutch and the floorboard, resulting in a chronic Lisfranc injury. Nevertheless, the claimant continued to assist in extinguishing the fire.

The claimant admitted that he was not paid for his services and had no expectation of being paid. He testified that, after Nelson requested that he help fight the fire, he provided his services out of concern for his neighbors and the community. The claimant never received any payment from the District after his termination on March 8, 1994.

After the hearing, the arbitrator issued a decision denying the claimant benefits under the Act, finding that he failed to prove that an employer/employee relationship existed between himself and the District at the time of his injury. On review, the Commission issued a unanimous decision affirming and adopting the arbitrator's decision. The circuit court confirmed that decision.

On appeal, the claimant argues that the Commission's finding that no employer/employee relationship existed is against the manifest weight of the evidence and erroneous as a matter of law. He further contends that the emergency doctrine dictates a finding that he had an employer/employee relationship with the District.

In a workers' compensation case, the claimant has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, all of the elements of his claim (O'Dette v. Industrial Comm'n, 79 Ill. 2d 249, 253, 403 N.E.2d 221 (1980)), including the existence of an employer/employee relationship between himself and the entity from which benefits are sought (Rangler Motor Sales v. Industrial Comm'n, 93 Ill. 2d 66, 71-72, 442 N.E.2d 903 (1982)). When the evidence is conflicting and the facts subject to diverse interpretation, the question of whether such a relationship existed is one of fact to be resolved by the Commission. Rangler Motor Sales, 93 Ill. 2d at 71-72. When, however, there is no conflict in the evidence and but one conclusion can reasonably be drawn therefrom, the existence of an employer/employee relationship can be decided as a question of law. Tooley v. Industrial Comm'n, 236 Ill. App. 3d 1054, 1056, 603 N.E.2d 145 (1992).

Section 1(b)(2) of the Act defines an employee as "[e]very person in the service of another under any contract of hire, express or implied, oral or written ***." 820 ILCS 305/1(b)(2) (West 1994). Although this definition is to be broadly construed, there can be no employer/employee relationship and, therefore, no liability under the Act absent a contract for hire, either express or implied. Goodrick v. Industrial Comm'n, 237 Ill. App. 3d 885, 888, 605 N.E.2d 120 (1992).

In the instant case, the Commission determined that no employer/employee relationship existed between the claimant and the District. The claimant argues both that the Commission's decision is against the manifest weight of the evidence and that the ...


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