GWC’s James E. Babcock Publishes Article in ISBA Newsletter

GWC attorney James E. Babcock has published an article in the newsletter for the Illinois State Bar Association’s Workers’ Compensation Law Section.

“Arising Out of ‘Walk This Way’”

In April 2021, the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) appointed Mr. Babcock to serve on its Workers’ Compensation Law Section Council for the 2021-2022 term. His duties include assisting the more than 27,000 members of the ISBA by participating in subcommittees, helping with the production of Continuing Legal Education programs, and contributing articles to the Council’s newsletter.

Mr. Babcock’s first article for the Council, “Arising Out of ‘Walk This Way’: Purdy Brothers Trucking, LLC v. IWCC,” appeared in the September 2021 issue of Workers’ Compensation Law. In it, he discusses an appellate court’s ruling on a trucking company’s attempt to deny benefits to one of its truckers, Joel Maddy.

While working for his employer at Sensient, a third-party manufacturing plant, Mr. Maddy was reassigned to the position of “spotter,” a worker who moves trailers containing products to the manufacturer’s docks. A Sensient employee told him to move a trailer to the dock and then assist in removing four-pound cardboard barrels from the trailer. While doing so, Mr. Maddy became ensnared by strapping inside the trailer, which caused him to fall and injure himself.

Purdy denied Mr. Maddy’s workers’ compensation claim on the theory that his position as a spotter prohibited him from loading or unloading trailers at Sensient. Therefore, the company argued, the claim did not arise out of his employment.

However, as Mr. Babcock states, Mr. Maddy “testified that he was not provided training as a spotter, that there were no training videos or manuals with directions or prohibitions, and that the only guidance was from a manager who instructed him to do what his assigned spotter trainer did … a direction similar to Igor stating in Young Frankenstein, ‘Walk this way.’”

Appellate Court Sides with Trucker

Both the arbitrator in the case and the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC) found in favor of the trucker, “holding that there was no evidence that Respondent ever told Mr. Maddy that he was prohibited from unloading and that Mr. Maddy’s actions were reasonably believed to be part of Mr. Maddy’s job and for the benefit of the employer.”

The appellate court upheld the earlier decision. The court primarily decided the matter as a “question of fact,” though it also addressed Purdy’s “matter of law arguments,” which it determined did not apply to the specific circumstances of this claim.

Overestimating Opponent’s Ability to Prove Theory

To Mr. Babcock, this decision provides an important lesson to workers’ compensation attorneys who might otherwise not challenge the opposing side’s arguments as strongly as they should.

“Sometimes as litigators, Mel Brooks’ ‘I got, I got, I ain’t got it!’ occurs and our theories of a case simply do not materialize from the witness stand,” writes Mr. Babcock. “On the other hand, sometimes very skilled litigators overestimate our opponent’s ability to prove their theory of the case and do not file penalty petitions.

“If an employer wants to mitigate risk, they should clearly define their employee’s job duties in writing and obtain written acknowledgment of those prohibited acts in order to prove an arising out of defense as opposed to directing their employees to ‘walk this way.’ They should also hang scissors any place otherwise innocuous, yet dangerous packing strapping is used.”

GWC’s Ongoing Commitment to Educational Excellence

Mr. Babcock’s first article for the ISBA’s newsletter does an excellent job articulating an important aspect of workers’ compensation law. It also continues a longstanding tradition at GWC Injury Lawyers LLC.

GWC believes in giving back to the profession while at the same time staying current with developments in the law. Our attorneys’ ongoing commitment to educational excellence makes them better advocates for the hardworking men and women of Illinois – a commitment that has yielded proven results.

With more than $2 billion recovered in verdicts and settlements, GWC is one of the premier Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury law firms in the state. Our workers’ compensation attorneys have the experience, the determination, the resources, and the reputation of success necessary to get you and your family the justice you deserve.

If you have been injured in the workplace, contact GWC today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with a dedicated workers’ compensation attorney. You may call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with a representative at any time.