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The Venture-Newberg-Perini v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission

Supreme Court of Illinois

December 19, 2013

THE VENTURE-NEWBERG-PERINI, STONE & WEBSTER, Appellant,
v.
THE ILLINOIS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION (Ronald Daugherty, Appellee).

Justices Freeman, Thomas, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

GARMAN CHIEF JUSTICE

¶ 1 Ronald Daugherty was a member of Plumbers & Pipefitters Union Local 137 (Local 137) based in Springfield, Illinois. Due to a lack of available work in his local area, Daugherty took a position with The Venture—Newberg-Perini, Stone & Webster (Venture) located approximately 200 miles from his home. Daugherty had temporarily relocated to a nearby motel for the job and was seriously injured in an automobile accident on his way to work. As a result, Daugherty sought workers' compensation benefits.

¶ 2 The arbitrator found that Daugherty failed to show that the injury arose out of and in the course of his employment. The Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) reversed the arbitrator's conclusion. On administrative review, the circuit court of Sangamon County set aside the Commission's finding. The appellate court reversed the circuit court's judgment, finding that Daugherty was a "traveling employee" at the time of the injury. The appellate court denied Venture's petition for rehearing, but granted certification pursuant to Rule 315(a), and this court granted Venture's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315(a) (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). For the following reasons, we reverse the judgment of the appellate court and affirm the circuit court's judgment.

¶ 3 BACKGROUND

¶ 4 At the time of the accident, Daugherty was a resident of Springfield, Illinois, and was a pipefitter and member of Local 137, working out of Springfield. Members of Local 137 were permitted to take jobs outside the local territory, but only when no work was available locally. Due to a lack of available work in the local area, Daugherty took a position with Venture at a plant located in Cordova, Illinois, located about 200 miles from Springfield. While working at the Cordova plant, Daugherty was expected to work 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. Due to the distance and long hours, Daugherty and his fellow union member, Todd McGill, decided to stay at a local motel.

¶ 5 Daugherty and McGill first reported to work at the Cordova plant on March 23, 2006. After completing work that day, the men went to Lynwood Lodge to spend the night. The motel was located about 30 miles from the Cordova plant. The men were scheduled to resume work at 7 a.m. the following day. Around 6 a.m. the next morning, McGill was driving Daugherty to work in McGill's pickup truck. The vehicle skidded on ice while crossing an overpass, and Daugherty suffered serious injuries. As a result of this accident, Daugherty sought workers' compensation benefits.

¶ 6 Daugherty's position with the Cordova plant was to be temporary. Under Local 137's normal policy, members are terminated at the completion of a job and are expected to seek a new position. Daugherty had worked for Cordova on four other short-term positions in the two years prior to the accident.

¶ 7 Daugherty testified that it was his understanding that Venture wanted workers to be within an hour's drive of the plant, so that they were available for work when needed. Daugherty's coworker, McGill, also testified that Venture did not direct workers where to stay and that, while Venture desired its employees to be located close to the plant, the workers were not required to relocate to be closer to the plant. An employee of Venture, Anthony Cahill, testified that Venture derived a benefit from workers residing within the local geographic area due to emergency labor needs. Venture, however, did not direct workers where to stay or what route to take to work. Daugherty was not reimbursed for travel expenses or compensated for travel time. Cahill noted that only existing employees who were transferred to another location were compensated for travel expenses.

¶ 8 The arbitrator concluded that Daugherty had failed to prove that his injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment. The arbitrator also found that Daugherty did not qualify for the traveling employee exception.

¶ 9 In a divided decision, the Commission reversed the arbitrator's decision, concluding that while ordinarily an accident occurring while an employee travels to work is not considered to be one that arises out of and in the course of employment, two exceptions applied here. First, the Commission found the accident occurred within the course of Daugherty's employment because Daugherty's course or method of travel was determined by the demands and exigencies of the job, rather than his personal preference. The Commission acknowledged that Daugherty was not required to stay in the local area, but found that "as a practical matter, " Daugherty needed to have stayed within a reasonable commuting distance from the plant. Second, the Commission found that Daugherty was a "traveling employee" at the time of the accident.

¶ 10 On administrative review, the circuit court found that the Commission misconstrued or misapplied Illinois law and set aside the Commission's findings. The appellate court reversed. 2012 IL App (4th) 110847WC. Relying on this court's decision in Wright v. Industrial Comm'n, 62 Ill.2d 65, 69 (1975), the majority of the appellate court found that Daugherty qualified as a "traveling employee" and that his injury arose out of the course of his employment. Justice Hudson dissented, finding that Daugherty's injury, occurring during his commute to work, did not arise out of and in the course of his employment. The dissent also disagreed with the majority's application of the traveling employee exception.

¶ 11 ANALYSIS

¶ 12 Venture argues that the appellate court erred in reversing the circuit court. First, Venture maintains that Daugherty was not a traveling employee. Venture focuses on the relevant facts, noting that Daugherty was a temporary employee and Venture did not send Daugherty to work at the Cordova plant. Venture also disputes the Commission's finding that Daugherty was acting under the direction or control of Venture when he chose to relocate closer to the work site and was injured on the way to work.

¶ 13 Daugherty, however, argues that the Commission's findings should be upheld under both exceptions. Daugherty's position is that he was a traveling employee because he was an employee who was traveling away from his home community for his employer. Daugherty also maintains that his injury arose out of and in the course of his employment because Daugherty's course of travel was determined by the demands and exigencies of the job, rather than his personal preference.

¶ 14 The parties also dispute the applicable standard of review. "Before a reviewing court may overturn a decision of the Commission, the court must find that the award was contrary to law or that the Commission's factual determinations were against the manifest weight of the evidence. [Citation.] On questions of law, review is de novo, and a court is not bound by the decision of the Commission. [Citation.] On questions of fact, the Commission's decision is against the manifest weight of the evidence only if the record discloses that the opposite conclusion clearly is the proper result." Beelman Trucking v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Comm'n, 233 ...


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