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New Illinois Workers' Compensation Decision - Bolingbrook Police Department vs. IWCC

On December 11, 2015, the Illinois Appellate Court published its decision in the case of Bolingbrook Police Department v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, which, in part, appears to expand workers' compensation principles of what constitutes a compensable accident. 

The case involved a claimant who is or was a police officer for the Bolingbrook Police department.  He claimed injury as a result of transferring his duty bag into his personal vehicle while still at his home in the morning before leaving to start his shift.  The bag, which weighed approximately 40 pounds, contained equipment necessary for Petitioner's work as a police officer, including an armored vest, helmet, and duty belt.  While in his garage, he bent over to pick up the bag and put it in the trunk of his personal car when his back "gave out" on him.  The Bolingbrook Police Department did not require the claimant to take the bag home with him; in fact, it provided a secure locker at the station to store the duty bag.  However, he was also not required to store the bag in the secure locker and could take it home with him if he chose to do so.  The Petitioner testified that he took the bag home so he didn't have to carry it all the way into the station; he also testified that most officers did this to avoid carrying the weight to and from lockers. 

Based upon this testimony and assumptions derived from it, the Arbitrator, Commission, Circuit Court and Appellate Court all found that the claimant sustained an injury that arose out of and in the course of employment.  With respect to the finding that the injury occurred in the course of employment, the Appellate Court reasoned that the Commission's finding was not against the manifest weight of the evidence because it was an injury "sustained at a place where a claimant might reasonably have been while performing his work duties." (citing to Nee v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Comm'n, an earlier 2015 case that expanded the reach of arising out of).  Because the police department allowed the claimant to take his work bag home for safekeeping, it could reasonably expect that he would lift the bag while at home.  The Court also found that the injury arose out of employment because the act of lifting the bag arose out of the claimant safekeeping it, a task that was beneficial to the employer.  Thus, since the claimant was performed a work duty at home (safekeeping of a work bag), and the employer could reasonably expect him to do so because it let him take the bag home instead of requiring that it was secured at the station, he sustained an injury that arose out of and in the course of employment. 

This decision is concerning to the extent that it opens to the door to liability when an employee is injured at home or during a commute.  The defects in the Court's reasoning and concerns about the potential effect of the opinion are more eloquently outlined in the dissent.  However, this decision is a departure from the established rule that injuries that occur at home are generally not compensable.   Once this door is opened, one can only imagine the possibilities of potential claims, slowly evolving the law so that workers' compensation will apply to more and more conditions that have any tangential relationship of any kind to one's employment. We expect that this case many continue to be litigated; however, for now, being aware of this decision is helpful for all individuals involved in the handling and litigation of workers' compensation claims in Illinois.  

If you have further questions or concerns about this case or Illinois Workers' Compensation laws, please feel free to contact the Arnett Law Group. 

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