The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC) recently awarded benefits to a flight attendant who injured herself after falling two times at an airport. Though the flight attendant was unable to explain the cause of these falls, it was determined that they occurred while she was performing reasonable and foreseeable actions of her job as a traveling employee.
In the matter of Otero v. United Airlines Inc., the injured flight attendant had worked at United Airlines for 36 years. She resided in Atlanta, GA but was stationed out of Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. On March 18, 2014, she returned to Dulles Airport from a flight from London and then began to head over to a return flight home to Atlanta. While exiting the plane, Ms. Otero fell on the jet bridge. After getting up, she went to retrieve her luggage and headed towards the customs counter, where she fell again, resulting in injury.
At the time of her Workers’ Compensation hearing, Ms. Otero testified that she had “tripped” on the bridge and at the customs counter, implying that some obstacles had impeded her path. The arbitrator, however, pointed out that her testimony was inconsistent with previous statements to physicians. Prior to the hearing, she had explicitly and consistently informed her examining and treating doctors that she did not know how she fell.
Moreover, Ms. Otero had a documented medical history predating this incident of peripheral neuropathy of the legs, diabetes, and vascular disease, all of which could negatively impact one’s ability to walk or maintain balance. Could her preexisting medical conditions have been the cause of Ms. Otero’s falls, not the actions she performed while on the job, especially in light of the fact that she could not prove why she had fallen?
According to the adjuster, such questions were irrelevant because of Ms. Otero’s special status as a “traveling employee.”
The Traveling Employee
According to Illinois workers’ compensation law, most employees traveling to and from their workplaces are typically not covered for any injuries that they sustain during their commutes. One exception to this general rule, however, is the traveling employee.
A traveling employee is one who is required to travel away from an employer’s premises to perform his or her job, as in the case of a flight attendant. Because of the nature of these jobs, traveling employees would be covered for any injuries they sustained while traveling, as such traveling arises out of and in the course of their employment, provided that their actions are considered reasonable and foreseeable by their employers.
Reasonable and Foreseeable Actions
Reasonable and foreseeable actions include the following:
- Actions that an employer specifically instructs an employee to perform;
- Actions that an employee has a statutory or common law duty to perform for an employer; or
- Actions that an employee may be expected to perform in the course of carrying out the duties of the job.
As the arbitrator argued, Ms. Otero, a flight attendant, fell first while exiting the airplane on the bridge that would bring her into the airport, and then at the customs counter, where she would have been required by U.S. law to go after disembarking from an international flight. United Airlines should have reasonably expected its flight attendant to disembark from one of its returning airplanes via a jet bridge and then go to the customs counter upon her arrival from a foreign country in the United States as part of her basic job duties. Therefore, Ms. Otero’s actions were reasonable and foreseeable, and her injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment.
The arbitrator awarded Ms. Otero workers’ compensation benefits, a decision that the IWCC affirmed and adopted.
Workers’ Compensation Claims
As you may see from this example, workers’ compensation claims can be complicated. Many injured workers find that they benefit from the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney, like the workers’ compensation attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers, Illinois’ largest Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury law firm.
If you have been injured in the workplace, please call GWC today to schedule a free consultation with one of our workers’ compensation attorneys. Call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with one of our representatives.