Illinois Workers’ Compensation Case Decided in Favor of Employee Who Shook Vending Machine to Retrieve Chips

The Illinois Appellate Court reversed a ruling by a Circuit Court judge who had denied Illinois workers’ compensation benefits to a Circuit City employee. The main issue was whether or not the employee had been acting within the scope of his employment. Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, No. 2-08-0722 WC.

The employee, Clinton Dwyer, testified that a co-worker had asked for his help in dislodging a bag of snack chips from a vending machine near an employee break room at his Circuit City store. Dwyer said that he tried shaking the machine, but failed to dislodge the chips. He then shook the machine from side to side, which still did not dislodge the chips. Then he hit the machine with his shoulder and hip, at which point he fell to the floor and was complaining of hip pain.

Dwyer was later taken to a nearby hospital where x-rays showed an impacted, slightly displaced fracture through the right femoral neck. He was sent to Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center for immediate treatment and underwent surgery the same day.

A Circuit City representative testified at a hearing that the snack machines were maintained near the break area for customers and “for the convenience and comfort of employees.” But Dwyer wasn’t on break at the time and was therefore in violation of company protocol when he went to the machine. However, the representative testified that Dwyer wasn’t disciplined for violating company policy.

After a hearing, an arbitrator in the Illinois Industrial Commission said that the issue in Dwyer’s case was whether the “personal comfort doctrine” was applicable. The personal comfort doctrine provides that employees who engage in acts “which minister to personal comfort do not thereby leave the course of employment unless the . . . method chosen is so unusual and unreasonable that the conduct cannot be considered an incident of the employment.” Using this theory the arbitrator found that Dwyer’s injury was compensatable under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.

Circuit City appealed to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC) which affirmed and adopted the arbitrator’s decision. Then Circuit City appealed to the McHenry County Circuit Court which reversed the Commission’s decision. However, on appeal, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the Circuit Court stating that it was reasonably foreseeable that an employee might resort to butting the machine with his or her shoulder after unsuccessful attempts at dislodging a product.

According to Dwyer’s testimony, he did nothing more than butt the machine. Under these circumstances, the Commission could have reasonably found that Dwyer’s manner of assisting his fellow employee did not cross the line of foreseeability so as to take him outside the scope of his employment. Accordingly, the Illinois Appellate Court said that the Commission’s decision is not against the manifest weight of the evidence and therefore held in favor of Dwyer.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois workers’ compensation cases for over 30 years, serving areas in and around Cook County including Oak Park, Evergreen Park, Elmhurst, and Deerfield.