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David Johnson v. the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission

August 15, 2011

DAVID JOHNSON,
APPELLEE,
v.
THE ILLINOIS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION, ET AL.,
SHERIFF OF WILL COUNTY AND WILL COUNTY, ILLINOIS,
APPELLANTS.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF Du PAGE COUNTY HONORABLE BONNIE M. WHEATON, JUDGE PRESIDING. No. 09 MR 937

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hoffman

JUSTICE HOFFMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Holdridge and Stewart concurred in the judgment and the opinion. Presiding Justice McCullough dissented, with opinion, joined by Justice Hudson.

OPINION

¶ 1 Will County and its sheriff appeal from an order of the Circuit Court of Du Page County which reversed a decision of the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission), denying the claimant, David Johnson, benefits pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 2006)) for injuries he received as a result of a vehicular collision on July 20, 2007. For the reasons which follow, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court and remand this matter back to the Commission.

¶ 2 The following factual recitation is taken from the evidence presented at the arbitration hearing on January 28, 2008.

¶ 3 Will County, Illinois, is geographically divided into several community-oriented-policing service areas (COPSA), which establish the Will County Sheriff's (Sheriff) patrol zones within the county. The northwest COPSA is one of these patrol zones, and that zone is subdivided into three areas identified as the north 50, the north 60, and the north 70.

¶ 4 At all times relevant, the claimant was employed as a Will County deputy sheriff and had been so employed for approximately 19 years. He was assigned to patrol the north 50 area of the northwest COPSA from 11 p.m. on July 19, 2007, until 7 a.m. on July 20, 2007. According to the claimant, although he was assigned to the north 50 area and responsible for the reports relating to services rendered in that area, he was allowed to patrol the entire northwest COPSA. Ordinarily, three deputy sheriffs are responsible for patrolling the entire northwest COPSA. However, due to the reassignment of a deputy sheriff to another COPSA, only the claimant and another deputy were assigned to the entire northwest COPSA from 11 p.m. on July 19, 2007, until 7 a.m. on July 20, 2007.

¶ 5 In the early morning hours of July 20, 2007, the claimant left his assigned patrol area in Will County and drove into Du Page County to perform a personal errand. The claimant admitted that he drove his Will County Sheriff's patrol car outside of his assigned patrol zone to collect his personal mail at a post office located in Du Page County, approximately three miles from the Will County border. The claimant did not request permission to leave his patrol zone, nor did he notify the dispatcher that he had traveled outside of Will County. Although the claimant stated that it was not unusual for deputy sheriffs to leave Will County to perform personal errands, he admitted that he should have requested permission before leaving his assigned patrol area.

¶ 6 The claimant testified that, as he was exiting the post office after completing his personal business, he received a radio assignment to assist deputy Stephen Kirsch, who had undertaken a traffic stop in the claimant's assigned patrol zone. Deputy Kirsch had notified the dispatcher that he had arrested an intoxicated driver and impounded the driver's vehicle, and that he needed assistance in transporting a passenger in the impounded vehicle to another location. Pamela Schmidt, the dispatcher, testified that an assignment from a dispatcher is considered an order from the Sheriff that must be obeyed.

¶ 7 The claimant acknowledged the radio assignment and proceeded to deputy Kirsch's location, traveling in excess of the posted speed limit from the time that he received the assignment. However, he never notified the dispatcher that he was outside of his assigned patrol area. As the claimant was driving to the assigned location, deputy Kirsch contacted him over a car-to-car radio frequency and inquired as to the claimant's estimated time of arrival. The claimant admitted that he told deputy Kirsch that he would arrive in 3 to 5 minutes when he was actually 10 to 15 minutes away from his location. According to the claimant, he did not believe that deputy Kirsch was in any danger as Kirsch had not requested emergency assistance. Schmidt testified that she would have assigned another deputy to assist deputy Kirsch if she had known that the claimant was outside of his assigned area.

¶ 8 As the claimant was traveling to deputy Kirsch's location, he was involved in a motor-vehicle accident in the intersection of Route 59 and 75th Street, which is located in Du Page County, approximately 1 1/2 miles from the Will County border and 20 miles from the place where Kirsch was waiting. The claimant testified that he entered the intersection against the traffic signal, traveling 25 to 30 miles per hour with his emergency flashers activated, and was struck in the passenger's side of his patrol car by a vehicle traveling approximately 60 miles per hour. According to the claimant, his patrol car was pushed across the road and came to rest in an adjoining field. The claimant notified the dispatcher that he had been involved in an accident and requested an ambulance for himself. He acknowledged that the dispatcher was not aware of his true location until he reported the collision.

¶ 9 As a result of the accident, the claimant sustained a transverse fracture of the left distal radius, a large scalp hematoma, numerous abrasions and a laceration on the right arm, bruising, an abdominal herniation, and contusions of the sternum, ribs, left knee, and left ankle. Following a period of convalescence, the claimant returned to full work duties as a deputy sheriff on September 11, 2007.

¶ 10 The claimant testified that he was suspended from duty without pay for a period of 8 days as a consequence of his having left his assigned post without permission. He admitted that it was important for the dispatcher to know a deputy's location in case of an emergency and that the dispatcher would presume that a deputy was patrolling within his assigned COPSA, unless notified otherwise. He did state, however, that deputies were not required to notify the dispatcher when leaving their assigned patrol zone so long as they remained within their assigned COPSA. Schmidt acknowledged that deputies are not restricted from traveling outside of their assigned zones, but they are generally required to stay in close proximity.

ΒΆ 11 Patrick Maher, the chief deputy of the Sheriff's Enforcement Division, testified that deputies are required to receive permission from the dispatcher before leaving the county. He stated that the claimant violated the department's rules and regulations when he left his assigned patrol zone and ventured into Du Page County without permission. He admitted, however, that the dispatcher ordered the claimant to assist Kirsch, that the claimant was on duty ...


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