The Illinois Industrial Commission Held That Construction Worker Was Entitled To Benefits For Injuries Resulting From His Use Of Circular Saw, Despite Evidence That He Was Using Saw In Improper And Un

The Commission awarded benefits to claimant for injuries resulting from his use of a circular saw, reasoning that although claimant’s injury occurred while he was engaged in the misuse of the saw, and clamant admitted that his actions were dangerous, there was no proof that his actions brought him out of the sphere of his employment as a construction laborer.

Claimant a construction laborer, was working in a supervisory position on a home remodeling project. As supervisor, claimant was responsible for opening the work site each day and completing all unfinished work from the preceding day. On the day of the accident, claimant arrived and opened the job site at 7:00 a.m. After meeting with the homeowner, claimant and the other workers went upstairs to put up drywall. Claimant testified that at

8:30 a.m., he sat to cut some trim board by using a circular saw positioned between his legs with the blade up. As he placed his hands on the board to run the wood across the blade, he cut his right thumb. He testified that he was aware that his use of the circular saw constituted an improper use of the equipment and was dangerous. However, he contended that his use of the saw in that fashion was mandated by the lace of proper equipment such as a table saw and time constraints.

A drywaller present at the work site testified that he first saw and spoke to claimant between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., noticing nothing unusual about claimant’s physical condition or behavior. He stated that claimant was absent from the work site for about one hour and, upon returning, exhibited behaviors such as slurred speech, drowsiness and unsteadiness. He further testified that as claimant was cutting the wood with the saw upside down on his lap, he admonished the other workers that claimant’s actions were dangerous and not to be performed by them. The drywaller stated that based on his previous drug use and work as a counselor, he believed that claimant was impaired. Claimant admitted that he had previously suffered an addiction to heroin up to two years prior to the accident, but had consumed no alcohol or drugs on the morning of the accident and did not leave the job site prior to the accident.

The arbitrator found that claimant failed to prove accidental injuries arising out of and in the course of employment.

The Commission reversed and awarded benefits, reasoning that although claimant’s injury occurred while he was engaged in the misuse of the circular saw, and claimant admitted that his actions were dangerous, there was no proof that his actions brought him out of the sphere of his employment as a construction laborer. Further, the Commission found no evidence that a safety rule in fact existed prohibiting claimant from operating the saw in the manner he had used it. The Commission pointed out that claimant was not hired or instructed to perform only drywall construction and, in fact, routinely performed a variety of construction duties. Next Commission distinguished Saunders v. Industrial Commission, cited by defendant in support for its position that claimant should be denied benefits. InSaunders, the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the denial of benefits to a claimant who was injured while riding double on a forklift, which the employer strictly forbade. The Commission explained that inSaunders, the conscious violation of the safety rule that in no way benefitted his employer was found to be outside the sphere of his employment.

The Commission went on to find insufficient evidence to establish that claimant was so impaired that his injury, as a matter of law, arose from that condition and not his employment. No records showing claimant’s blood alcohol or controlled substance levels were introduced. The sole evidence of intoxication came from the drywaller. The Commission determined that his testimony, without medical documentation of intoxication and in the face of claimant’s denial of intoxication, was insufficient to bar recovery.