The short answer is yes. In the recent decision of the Appellate Court, in the case of The City of Bridgeport v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, it was determined that the surviving spouse of an employee of the City was indeed entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
Stephen Harvey filed for benefits for the death of his wife, which occurred at work due to a seizure she sustained while in the course and scope of her employment. Jacqueline Harvey, who died on May 19, 2011, started work in March 2011 as a meter reader for the City. While in the process of reading the water meter near a certain residence, she suffered a seizure, fell face down into standing water about 8 inches deep, and drowned. Mr. Harvey testified that his wife had a seizure disorder, and suffered from grand mal seizures. These facts were essentially undisputed.
At the initial hearing, the arbitrator found that an employee and employer relationship did not exist between the decedent and the City, and that the decedent did not sustain an accident that arose out of and in the course of her employment. An appeal followed to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, which reversed the arbitrator’s decision, finding that an employer-employee relationship did exist between the decedent and the City, and that the decedent’s accident arose out of and in the course of her employment. The employer was ordered to pay approximately $2,000 for medical expenses, $8,000 for burial expenses, and $466.13 per week for 25 years or $500,000.
The City filed a petition for review in the Circuit Court, which confirmed the Commission’s decision. The City then appealed. In their appeal, the City took a two-pronged attack: First, that there was no employer-employee relationship; in other words, the meter reader was an independent contractor. There was only one issue, with regard to the many facts to be considered, to determine an independent contractor relationship. The court found that the only one was the fact that the City did not withhold income taxes or FICA from her paycheck. The Appellate Court dismissed this first attack in one sentence by stating that whether income taxes were withheld has not been found to be a significant factor in determining whether a party is an employee or an independent contractor. The Commission further found that not one single factor definitively favored the City’s position that the decedent was an independent contractor.
The second part of the City’s attack was that the injury did not arise out of or in the course of the employment, mainly because she was exposed to no greater risk than the general public. The Commission found the the accident rose out of and in court the course of her having to work in conditions that included an 8 inch pool of rainwater, a hazard it found was not confronted by the general public. In the end, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment of the Circuit Court, and Mr. Harvey won the case.