On November 19, 2013, an arbitrator filed his decision with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission in the case of Susan Bidstrup, the injured worker, versus her employer, Northern Illinois University.  The arbitrator ruled that on September 4, 2012, the injured worker did not sustain an accident that arose out of and in the course of employment.  Therefore, the claim was denied.  According to the arbitrator’s decision, he relied on the fact that the petitioner’s act of walking upstairs outside the entrance, when she fell and heard a pop and crack in her knee, did not constitute an accident which would give rise to the liability of her employer to pay her for lost time and medical expenses.

Interesting are the facts that while attempting to enter the employee entrance to the parking services building after making a payroll delivery, the injured worker placed her foot on the step outside the entrance, and she felt and heard her knee pop and crack.  Afterwards, she felt pain in her knee, and leaned against the wall while another employee helped her into the office.  The injured worker testified that she did not trip on the steps, nor did she get her foot stuck in any gaps between the steps.  She further testified that the entrance she used was for employees only, and not a general means of entering or leaving the building.  In fact, the injured worker had her own key for this entrance and was instructed to use the door when the parking department was busy.  Indeed, that day was a busy day in the parking department, as it coincided with the beginning of the school year at Northern Illinois University.

Clearly the accident arose in the course of her employment; the next question is did it arise out of the course of her employment.  Since there was no defect in the step, the arbitrator decided that the fall was “idiopathic,” and the accident was therefore a risk personal for the injured worker.  The Illinois Workers’ Compensation commission affirmed the decision of the arbitrator.

Of special note in the findings of fact of the arbitrator, he writes, “…while attempting to enter the employee entrance to the parking services building after making a payroll delivery.”

My question is:  Why was it that nowhere in the decision of the arbitrator or the commission was the fact that the employee obviously left her office in the parking services building, returning to that building after making a payroll delivery some distance from that building?  In my opinion, she indeed was a traveling employee, and should have been covered from door to door by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, as are all other traveling employees.

In stark contrast is the case of Bergman v. Addus Healthcare, decided March 10, 2015, by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, which affirmed and adopted the decision of the arbitrator filed June 24, 2014.  Dawn Bergman, the injured worker, worked for Addus Healthcare company as a home caregiver, and she slipped and fell on packed snow, and injured her right knee.

The arbitrator, as a matter of law, stated that Ms. Bergman was a traveling employee because her job required her to travel from one client’s home to another client’s home, and her injury occurred while leaving a client’s home while going to her car, and therefore, she should receive benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act.  The arbitrator stated it was undisputed that the petitioner’s job duties required her to travel.

Is there really a difference between these two cases referred to above?   One employee was traveling from one building on campus to another at the instruction of her employer.  The other employee was traveling from one client’s home to another client’s home at the instruction of her employer.  A traveling employee is subject to the hazards of the street to a greater degree than the general public, and since they are, there is an increased risk of injury, which is reasonably foreseeable, which satisfies the test of “arising out of and in the course of the employment.”

 

Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, Slip and Fall, Traveling Employee