Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act Exclusive-Remedy Provision Denied By Illinois Supreme Court As Applies To Employer’s Co-Venturer

The Illinois Supreme Court recently reversed a prior ruling by the Illinois Appellate Court regarding employer immunity under the Workers’ Compensation Act (Daniel Ioerger, et al. v. Halverson Construction Company, Inc., No. 105912 (December 18, 2008).) In 1999, Midwest Foundation Corporation and Halverson Construction Company entered into a joint venture for an Illinois Department of Transportation project to repair a bridge over the Illinois River.

The profits, losses and liabilities resulting from the project were to be shared 60-40 between the two companies, with Midwest getting the larger share. As part of this agreement, Midwest was responsible for providing the labor and covering the workers’ compensation insurance.

During the project, four of Midwest’s iron workers were working from a platform suspended over the Illinois River. While they were working the platform collapsed, which caused them to fall into the river. Three of the iron workers were injured and one died.

The three injured workers and the estate of the deceased worker received workers’ compensation benefits through Midwest’s workers’ compensation insurance. But the four parties also filed an Illinois construction site accident lawsuit against Halverson, the joint venture, and various other defendants. The plaintiffs sought to recover damages for their injuries and the one worker’s death.

In response, Halverson and the joint venture filed motions for summary judgment. The motions argued that because they were co-ventures with Midwest, they too were covered by immunity under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.

The trial court agreed with the defendants and entered a summary judgment in their favor. The plaintiffs then brought an appeal to the Appellate Court, who reversed the trial court’s ruling. Yet on further appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court the Appellate Court’s decision was reversed and the trial court’s finding was reinstated.

According to the Illinois Supreme Court, the Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusive-remedy provision extends not only to the employer, but to the various other specified entities, including agents of the employer. In Ioerger, Halverson was a co-venture with Midwest; under Illinois law, joint ventures are governed by partnership principles. And under partnership principles, partners are agents of the partnership and of one another for purposes of the business.

Therefore, as a co-joint venture with Midwest, Halverson was Midwest’s agent and was entitled to the same immunity afforded to Midwest by the exclusive-remedy provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Using this logic, the trial court correctly granted Halverson’s motion for summary judgment that ended the case. The Illinois Supreme Court stated that the Appellate Court erroneously based its decision on the notion that the joint venture had not contributed to the payment of workers’ compensation premiums or reimbursed Midwest for its payment of them for the incident.

Chicago’s Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois workers’ compensation claims and construction site accident cases for over 30 years, serving areas such as Barrington, Naperville, Oak Lawn, and Winnetka.