Mike Resis, head of the firm’s appellate practice group, won a notable appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court in Venture-Newberg-Perini, Stone & Webster v. Ill. Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, 2013 IL 115728 on December 19, 2013. Mike was hired specifically to brief and argue the appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court.
The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the claimant was a “traveling employee” who was covered by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act when he was involved in a vehicular accident while traveling from temporary lodgings to a power plant where he was hired to work for several weeks. The claimant had learned of the temporary job through his union hall and relocated to work as a pipefitter at the power plant 200 miles from Springfield, Illinois, where he resided. He and a co-worker shared travel expenses and lodgings near the plant. He was not hired until he went through processing and a background check at the plant. The following morning, he was involved in a serious accident while traveling from his motel to the plant. The arbitrator found that the claimant was not a “traveling employee” under these facts, but the Commission, over a dissent, reversed the arbitrator. The trial court, on administrative review, agreed with the arbitrator and vacated the Commission’s findings, but the appellate court reversed the trial court and reinstated the Commission’s findings. The Illinois Supreme Court, over a dissent, reversed the appellate court, reinstated the trial court’s judgment in the employer’s favor and held that the claimant was not a “traveling employee” under the Act. The Supreme Court reasoned that the employer did not direct the claimant to accept the temporary job at the distant work location. He accepted the job with full knowledge of the travel and expense involved. His course or method of travel from temporary lodgings to the plant was not determined by the exigencies or demands of the job. He was not reimbursed for travel or lodging expenses, required to carpool or told where to stay. As the Commission’s findings were against the manifest weight of the evidence, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment for Mike’s client. The case is notable because it restores reasonable limits to the “traveling employee” doctrine. Prior case law defined “traveling employees” as those whose work-related duties take them away from their employer’s premises. In this case, the Supreme Court determined that the claimant was hired as a pipefitter specifically for only one employer’s premises and that his duties did not take him away from those premises. A contrary ruling, according to the Supreme Court, would have raised serious public policy concerns because it could mean that anyone hired to work at the power plant would have been considered a “traveling employee” while commuting to or from work under the appellate court’s and the Commission’s reasoning.