Illinois Police Officer’s Back Injury Lifting Duty Bag at Home Found Compensable

A police officer, who injured his back as he lifted his “duty bag” to place it in his personal vehicle prior to leaving his home for work sustained an injury arising out of and in the course of his employment, held a divided Illinois appellate court yesterday [Bolingbrook Police Dep’t v. Illinois Workers’ Comp. Comm’n, 2015 IL App (3d) 130869WC, 2015 Ill. App. LEXIS 902 (Dec. 7, 2015). The majority of the court agreed with the Commission that at the time of the police officer’s injury, he was furthering the interests of the police department.

Background

The officer’s duty bag weighed approximately 40 pounds and contained the equipment the officer used on patrol—a Kevlar helmet, gas mask, vehicle and criminal codes, incident reports, extra ammunition, his handcuffs, and a few other items. The officer admitted that he had some prior issues with his back, but testified that the pain he felt upon lifting the back that day was significantly greater and different than before. The police department contended that the officer was not required to take the duty bag home and that since the accident occurred at home, it was not causally connected to the employment.

Performing Actions Related to Employment

The majority of the appellate court stressed that to be compensable, an injury must also occur while the officer was engaged in an activity that was incidental to his position. An activity is incidental to the employment if it carries out the employer’s purposes or advances its interests, either directly or indirectly. The majority indicated that since law enforcement duty bags containing live ammunition, and other law enforcement equipment, they would pose a risk to the public if left unattended. Leaving them unattended also presented an unprofessional image, undermining the public’s confidence in law enforcement. The employer, therefore, had a direct interest in seeing that its officers maintained the safekeeping of the equipment that was necessary for their duties on patrol. The majority reasoned that since claimant was injured while performing actions that were directly related to this job-related task, his injuries arose from the employment.

Dissent

Justice Hudson dissented, indicating the officer had failed to sustain his burden of showing that the injury occurred in the course of his employment. Justice Hudson maintained that the evidence clearly established that it was claimant’s own decision to take his duty bag home after each shift and that he did so for his own convenience, not for the benefit of respondent. The officer had a locker at work where he could have stored the equipment. He made a personal decision to store his work-related belongings in his garage, said the justice.

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