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Mlynarczyk v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District, Workers' Compensation Commission Division

May 30, 2013

THE ILLINOIS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION, et al., (Sophie Obrochta d/b/a Janitorial By Sophie, Appellee).

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Will County, No. 11-MR-766 Honorable Barbara Petrungaro, Judge, Presiding.

JUSTICE HUDSON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Holdridge and Justices Hoffman, Harris, and Stewart concurred in the judgment and opinion.



¶ 1 Claimant, Stanislawa Mlynarczyk, appeals from the judgment of the circuit court of Will County confirming a decision of the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission). The Commission determined that claimant failed to prove that she sustained an accident arising out of and in the course of her employment with respondent, Sophie Obrochta d/b/a Janitorial by Sophie. On appeal, claimant argues that she was a "traveling employee" and therefore was entitled to benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 2006)). We agree. Therefore, we reverse the judgment of the trial court, vacate the decision of the Commission, and remand this cause for further proceedings.


¶ 3 The following factual recitation is taken from the evidence presented at the arbitration hearing held over the course of several dates beginning on September 29, 2009. Respondent operates a cleaning service run by Walter Obrochta and his wife, Sophie. Claimant testified through a Polish interpreter that she became employed by respondent in September 2007. Claimant's duties involved cleaning churches, homes, and offices. Claimant testified that she was paid by the job. Claimant's husband, Edward Mlynarczyk, also worked for respondent. As part of his employment, Edward occasionally drove respondent's employees to and from job sites. Edward used a minivan provided by Walter and Sophie to transport the employees. Neither respondent's name, logo, nor telephone number appear on the minivan.

¶ 4 At the time claimant and Edward were hired by respondent, they did not own an automobile. Accordingly, Edward also used the minivan to drive himself and claimant to work, to visit family, to shop, and to do other personal errands. Edward testified that he paid for the gasoline when he used the minivan for personal trips. At all other times, however, the Obrochtas paid or reimbursed him for fuel. The Obrochtas also paid the other costs associated with the minivan, including insurance and licensing fees.

¶ 5 On December 5, 2007, claimant, then 60 years old, left her home at 6:30 a.m. and was driven by Edward in the minivan to clean a church in Downers Grove, Illinois. After cleaning the church, Edward drove claimant in the minivan to clean two homes. Claimant and Edward finished cleaning the second home at about 2:30 p.m. Walter testified that claimant and Edward usually had a full day of jobs from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. On December 5, 2007, however, there were some cancellations due to the holiday season. Walter informed claimant and Edward that there were no other assignments for them, but that if they were interested in assisting the evening crew on another job, they should return to the church at around 4:30 p.m. Claimant and Edward agreed to return that evening. In the meantime, Edward and claimant traveled home in the minivan to eat lunch.

¶ 6 Typically, claimant and Edward took a 15-minute break for lunch. On the date in question, however, Edward and claimant remained home for about 90 minutes. Claimant was not paid for the time between the morning and evening jobs. Shortly after 4 p.m., Edward returned to the minivan to warm it up. The minivan was parked in the driveway of the house where claimant and Edward resided. At approximately 4:10 p.m., claimant left the house to return to work. Claimant testified that the ground was covered with snow, although she was not sure whether there was any ice beneath the snow. As claimant walked around the rear of the minivan, she slipped and fell. Claimant testified that the accident occurred adjacent to the driveway on a "public sidewalk" leading from the house to the driveway. Edward testified that although he did not see claimant fall, he found her lying behind the van, which was parked in the driveway. Claimant testified that she immediately felt "tremendous pain" in her left hand. She was unable to get up, so she called Edward for assistance. According to claimant, at the time of the fall, she had a purse on her shoulder but was not holding anything in her hands. En route to the hospital, Edward informed Walter of the accident. Claimant was diagnosed with a left wrist fracture, which required surgery to repair.

¶ 7 Claimant testified that because of lifting restrictions, she was unable to return to work for respondent, but found a position performing light housekeeping and cooking for an elderly woman. That job started on December 18, 2008. In September 2009, the woman fell and became unable to walk. Claimant had to quit that job because she could not lift the woman. Claimant testified that she sometimes has pain in her left wrist and feels pain when she attempts to lift anything heavy. She also notices that she does not have the same strength in the left hand as she did before the accident.

¶ 8 Walter testified that because claimant and Edward were "new in this country, " he and Sophie tried "to help them to stand on their feet." Walter testified that he lent the minivan to claimant and Edward because he was not using it. Walter testified that claimant and Edward could use the minivan for "anything, " including work, shopping, and family visits. Walter stated that Edward returned the minivan in February 2008, after he purchased his own car. According to Walter, the minivan was not titled in the name of the business, but rather in his name and the name of his wife. Walter also testified that he and Sophie, not the company, paid to insure the vehicle.

¶ 9 The arbitrator concluded that claimant sustained a compensable accident. The arbitrator acknowledged the general rule that injuries incurred while traveling to or from the workplace are not considered to arise out of and in the course of one's employment. Nevertheless, the arbitrator found claimant's accident compensable on the grounds that claimant was a traveling employee and respondent provided claimant a means of transportation to and from work for its own benefit. The arbitrator also concluded that claimant's current condition of ill-being is causally related to her employment. The arbitrator awarded claimant reasonable and necessary medical expenses (see 820 ILCS 305/8(a) (West 2006)), 54 weeks of temporary total disability benefits (see 820 ILCS 305/8(b) (West 2006)), and 133¼ weeks of permanent partial disability benefits, representing a 65% loss of use of the left hand (see 820 ILCS 305/8(e)(9) (West 2006)). In addition, the arbitrator assessed attorney fees and penalties against respondent pursuant to sections 16, 19(k), and 19(l) of the Act. See 820 ILCS 305/16, 19(k), 19(l) (West 2006).

¶ 10 Respondent sought review of the arbitrator's decision before the Commission, challenging the arbitrator's finding of a compensable accident and his imposition of attorney fees and penalties. The Commission reversed the decision of the arbitrator. The Commission found that claimant failed to prove that the injuries she sustained as a result of her fall on December 5, 2007, arose out of and in the course of her employment. The Commission explained as follows:

"[Claimant] testified that she fell on her personal driveway while walking to a vehicle to go to work. [Claimant] testified she did not know if there was ice under the snow on the sidewalk and driveway. The public sidewalk and private driveway were in the same condition as it related to the ice and snow. [Claimant] was not carrying anything when she fell; she had her purse on her shoulder. The Commission finds that the [claimant] failed to prove that she was exposed to a risk that was connected or incidental to her employment and ...

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