David Johnson is a deputy sheriff in Will County, Illinois. On July 19, 2007, Johnson left his assigned patrol area in Will County and drove into Du Page County to collect his personal mail at a post office located in Du Page County, approximately three miles from the Will County border. Johnson did not request permission to leave his patrol zone, nor did he notify the dispatcher that he had traveled outside of Will County.
As Johnson left the post office after completing his personal business, he received a radio assignment to assist deputy Stephen Kirsch, who had undertaken a traffic stop in the Johnson’s assigned patrol zone. As Johnson was traveling to Kirsch’s location, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident approximately 1 1/2 miles from the Will County border. Johnson sustained a transverse fracture of the left distal radius, a large scalp hematoma, numerous abrasions and a laceration on the right arm, bruising, an abdominal herniation, and contusions of the sternum, ribs, left knee, and left ankle. Johnson did not return to full work duties for almost two months.
When Johnson filed a workers’ compensation claim for his injuries, the County opposed the claim, contending that the fact that Johnson was on a personal errand and out of the County at the time of the accident meant that his injuries did not occur in the course of his duties. The Illinois Court of Appeals sided with Johnson, and awarded him benefits.
The Court began its opinion with the basic proposition that “in the course of the employment” for workers’ compensation purposes “refers to the time, place, and circumstances under which the claimant is injured. Injuries sustained on an employer’s premises, or at a place where the claimant might reasonably have been while performing his duties, and while a claimant is at work, or within a reasonable time before and after work, are generally deemed to have been received in the course of the employment.”
The Court observed that it was undisputed that an assignment from a dispatcher was considered to be an order from the Sheriff that must be obeyed. That meant, the Court found, that Johnson’s injuries “arose out of his employment as they were sustained while he was performing acts he was instructed to perform by his employer; namely, driving his patrol car to assist deputy Kirsch.”
The Court acknowledged the general rule that “a deviation for purely personal reasons takes an employee out of the course of his employment.” The Court also agreed that there was “no question” that “prior to having received the radio assignment to assist deputy Kirsch, Johnson was engaged in a purely personal deviation which took him into Du Page County.”
In the Court’s judgment, the radio dispatch changed the playing field: “In this case, it is undisputed that, at the time of his injury, Johnson was a deputy sheriff, driving a Will County Sheriff’s patrol car, and responding to an assignment from his dispatcher to assist another deputy sheriff. The only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from these facts is that, at the time of his injury, Johnson was acting within the sphere of his employment and that his injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment.”
Johnson v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Com’n, 2011 WL 3689356 (Ill. App. 2 Dist. 2011).
This article appears in the December 2011 issue.