Plaintiff May Not Use Illinois’ “One Day in Rest Act” to Subvert Exclusive Remedy of State’s Workers’ Compensation Act

The administrator of the estate of an Illinois employee killed in a work-related vehicular accident may not utilize the state’s “One Day Rest in Seven Act” (“ODRA”)[820 Ill. Comp. Stat. 140/1 et seq.] to recover damages in a civil action filed against the employer, held a U.S. Federal District Court in Webster v. Firstexpress, Inc., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44575 (N.D. Ill., Mar. 19, 2019). Acknowledging that the exclusive remedy defense did not apply where the injury (1) was not accidental; (2) did not arise from his or her employment; (3) was not received during the course of employment; or (4) was not compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act (“the Act”), the Court held none of the exceptions applied.

Background

Webster, who was employed by Pomp’s Tire Service, Inc. (“Pomp’s”), was killed in a collision with a vehicle owned by FirstExpress, Inc. and operated by Schimmel. Webster’s administratrix (“plaintiff”) filed a workers’ compensation death benefits claim and also filed a wrongful death action against Pomps, FirstExpress, and Schimmel. The civil action was subsequently removed to federal court.

Plaintiff alleged, in relevant part, that prior to the collision, Pomp’s had “intentionally directed and compelled” Webster to work more than forty hours per week and failed to provide a full day of rest, which plaintiff alleged violated the ODRA. Plaintiff also alleged that Pomp’s had also required Webster to work “mandatory overtime” without allowing him sufficient rest. Plaintiff further alleged that Pomp’s knew that its excessive hours requirements would affect Webster’s health and ability to operate his truck safely. Plaintiff alleged that because of Webster’s excessive work schedule, he became too tired to operate his motor vehicle safely, resulting in the fatal collision.

The Non-Accidental Injury Exception

Acknowledging that a plaintiff may circumvent the exclusive remedy provisions of the Act where it is shown that the employer intentionally injured the employee, the federal court stressed that there must be an actual showing of intentionality. Citing precedents from Illinois appellate courts, the court said that even if the alleged conduct went beyond aggravated negligence, and included such elements as knowingly permitting a hazardous work condition to exist, knowingly ordering claimant to perform an extremely dangerous job, willfully failing to furnish a safe place to work, or even willfully and unlawfully violating a safety statute, this still fell short of the kind of actual intention to injure that robbed the injury of accidental character.

Plaintiff had alleged that Pomp’s scheduled Webster for excessive hours, “knowing” that it would make him “more prone” to motor vehicle collisions and be “exhausting and injurious to his health.” The court said those allegations failed to rise to the level of “specific intent” to harm required by Illinois law, under which even knowingly exposing an employee to a dangerous situation is insufficient to fit within the non-accidental injury exception.

Voluntary Disbursement of Payments

The Court further acknowledged that under Illinois law, the Act’s exclusive-remedy provision did not bar a plaintiff’s civil recovery where he or she receives “voluntarily disbursed” or “unsolicited” workers’ compensation benefits from the employer or the employer’s insurer. Here, however, it was undisputed that plaintiff filed a workers’ compensation claim prior to commencing the civil litigation. As such, plaintiff undertook an “affirmative act” to seek benefits, meaning that any benefits disbursed after that point would not be considered “voluntarily disbursed.”

Wrongful Death Action Barred

Based on these findings, the district court found recovery under the Act was plaintiff’s exclusive remedy against the Pomp’s. The case could continue, however, against the other defendants.

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