Flight Attendant Injured on Commuting Flight Denied Benefits

United Airlines, Inc. v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, 2016 IL App (1st) 151693WC

Flight attendant on airplane

A flight attendant who was injured on a flight commuting to her base airport was found not to be a “traveling employee” and her Illinois workers’ compensation claim was denied in United Airlines, Inc. v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, 2016 IL App (1st) 151693WC Google Scholar | Illinois Courts PDF.

To succeed in a workers’ compensation claim, an injured worker must prove an accident arising out of and in the course of employment820 ILCS 305/1(d) Illinois General Assembly | IWCC PDF.

Accidents that occur while traveling to and from work are generally not compensable, unless the injured worker is considered a “traveling employee” – one who is required to travel away the employer’s premises.  The Venture-Newberg-Perini, Stone & Webster v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, 2013 IL 115728 Google Scholar | Illinois Courts PDF.

The purpose behind the rule prohibiting compensation for commuting accidents is that “the employee’s trip to and from work is the product of his own decision as to where he wants to live, a matter in which his employer ordinarily has no interest.” Sjostrom v. Sproule, 33 Ill. 2d 40 (1965) Google Scholar.

An injury sustained by a traveling employee “arises out of her employment if she is injured while engaging in conduct that was reasonable and foreseeable.” Pryor v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, 2015 IL App (2d) 130874WC Google Scholar | Illinois Courts PDF. This is different than the typical “arising out of employment” standard that relates to the casual connection between the accident and the risk involved with the work duties. Noonan v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, 2016 IL App (1st) 152300WC (finding that falling from a chair did not arise out of employment) Google Scholar | Illinois Courts PDF.

Traveling employees are deemed to be “in the course of employment” from the time they leave home until they return. Mlynarczyk v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, 2013 IL App (3d) 120411WC Google Scholar | Illinois Courts PDF.

In this case, the Appellate Court considered the Illinois Supreme Court’s reasoning in the recent case of The Venture-Newberg-Perini, Stone & Webster v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, 2013 IL 115728 Google Scholar | Illinois Courts PDF, that concluded that the injured worker was not a traveling employee:

“[N]othing in [the employee’s] contract required him to travel out of his union’s territory to take the position with [the employer]. * * * [H]e made the personal decision that the benefits of the pay outweighed the personal cost of traveling. [The employee] was hired to work at a specific location and was not directed by [the employer] to travel away from this work site to another location. Rather, [the employee] merely traveled from the premises to his residing location, as did all other employees. Finally, [the employer] did not reimburse [the employee] for his travel expenses, nor did it assist [the employee] in making his travel arrangements.

Similarly, in this case the Appellate Court found:

  • The claimant chose to live in Colorado and commute to her base airport in New York;
  • United Airlines did not control where the claimant chose to live;
  • United Airlines derived no benefit from the claimant’s choice to live in Colorado;
  • The claimant had no job duties and earned no wages on the commuting flight;
  • United Airlines did not reimburse the claimant for her hotel stay in New York before her shift started; and
  • The claimant’s decision to fly to commute to work was not directed or arranged by United Airlines.

The Appellate Court concluded that the claimant’s choice to live in Colorado was a personal decision and that she was injured during a typical commute to work. In other words, she was not a traveling employee.

The Appellate Court affirmed the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission’s decision to deny her workers’ compensation claim.

This article does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.