Commuting accidents targeted in new Illinois workers comp legislation

4603263_sA recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling has led to the development of legislation aimed at more clearly defining when injuries sustained in auto accidents while commuting to work are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

State Supreme Court case

The State Journal-Register reported that the Supreme Court of Illinois issued a 6-1 ruling that overturned a decision by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission regarding injuries sustained in a commuting accident. The IWCC chose to award a pipefitter workers’ compensation benefits for a serious injury he sustained in an accident that occurred while he and a co-worker were traveling to their job.

The man was staying at a motel in lieu of making the 200 mile trip each way from his home to the power plant he was working at and was involved in an accident after the vehicle driven by his co-worker skidded on a patch of ice. The high court’s ruling was based in part on the fact that the man was not forced to take the position and, instead, made the decision to accept the temporary job, knowing about the commute.

Proposed legislation

In an effort to head off assigning unreasonable liability to employers in commuting accident cases, Senator Kyle McCarter proposed an amendment to the Illinois’ Workers’ Compensation Act. The proposed amendment would set specific requirements for when injuries suffered in an accident, while traveling to work, would be eligible for benefits. If approved, employers will not be held liable for commuting accident injuries unless the worker is traveling solely for work purposes.

The legislation specifies that injuries occurring in commuting accidents would only be compensable in cases where the injury is caused by, or resultant from, employment while the worker “is actively engaged in the duties of employment”. This would include cases involving the following:

  • When an employee is asked by their employer to run an errand on the way to work
  • If the worker can show their employer paid for gas, lodging or other travel costs
  • An employee is traveling to the office, while out of town on business 

Cases such as the one recently considered by the state’s Supreme Court would not be eligible.

Support and opposition 

There is both support and opposition for Senator McCarter’s proposed changes to the Workers’ Compensation Act. Those in favor of the senator’s amendment argue that it does not make sense to hold employers financially responsible for injuries they are not liable for. Supporters also suggest that the changes will lower workers’ compensation premium costs. The opposition to the proposed amendment, however, argues that previous changes had no effect on premiums. They also suggest that this legislation would only restrict the rights of injured workers.

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