A crossing guard employed by a town in Illinois can collect workers’ compensation benefits for her injury from a fall in a public parking space, according to an appeals court.
The First District Appellate Court of Illinois found that the crossing guard, who slipped on ice in the public parking space as she left her personal vehicle, was technically on her employer’s premises when she was injured.
Slipped, fell on snow-covered ice
Jacqueline MacDonnell-Dayhoff was employed as a crossing guard and receptionist by the Western Springs Police Department.
On Feb. 6, 2014, MacDonnell-Dayhoff was required to report to a specific intersection to perform her duties as a crossing guard. This location was right outside the door of the town hall, so she parked her vehicle in a parking space directly across from the town hall, an area she parked in frequently.
When she stepped out of her vehicle, she slipped on ice which was hidden under a thin layer of snow. She then lost her balance and fell, injuring her wrist. Doctors determined that she fractured her wrist. MacDonnell-Dayhoff filed a workers’ compensation claim, which the city contested.
Employee parking lots were available
During a hearing with an arbitrator, MacDonnell-Dayhoff admitted that there were two employee-designated parking lots behind the village hall that weren’t for use by the general public. She stated that she didn’t check to see if there were open parking spaces in the two parking lots and that she chose to park where she did for her own convenience. Her testimony also indicated that no one with the town gave her instructions on where to park.
The parking space MacDonnel-Dayhoff parked in was actually reserved for the passengers of a public commuter train and was limited to four hours in duration. She claimed the town allowed her and several other employees to park in those spaces in excess of the four-hour time limit. She also claimed she had to give her license plate number to the town so police officers would know it was her car and not issue a citation.
A representative of the town testified that the parking space where MacDonnell-Dayhoff parked was public parking area that was owned and maintained by the town. One of the town’s police officers also testified that the parking area in question was for public use and belonged to the town.
The arbitrator found that MacDonnell-Dayhoff didn’t sustain an injury arising out of and in the course of her employment and denied her workers’ compensation benefits. This was because MacDonnell-Dayhoff parked her vehicle on a public street that wasn’t designated for town employees and she fell at a point well away from her crossing guard post. This all presented a neutral risk, according to the arbitrator.
Comp commission: Benefits OK since town gave permission
The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission reversed the arbitrator’s decision, finding that MacDonnell-Dayhoff’s injury did occur in the course of her employment. The commission found that she “fell in a parking space provided by her employer.” This was because the town:
- allowed her to park in the space despite it being open to the general public
- owned and maintained the parking area, and
- waived the four-hour parking limit for her and other town employees.
The town sought judicial review in a circuit court. On Nov. 18, 2021, the court reversed the commission’s decision. It found the fall occurred on a public street, not in a parking lot that wasn’t provided for the town’s employees, and that the injury didn’t arise out of and in the course of her employment.
Exception to general premises rule
On appeal with the First District Appellate Court of Illinois, MacDonnell-Dayhoff argued that the commission’s decision that her accident arose from her employment was supported by the evidence.
The appeals court said that when an employee slips and falls while walking to work at a point off the employer’s premises, the resulting injuries don’t arise out of the course of employment and so aren’t compensable. This is known as the “general premises rule.”
There is an exception to that rule that says an employee can get benefits in cases where the parking lot was provided by and was under the control of the employer. While applying this exception to MacDonnel-Dayhoff’s case, the commission found the public parking space was on the town’s premises, and the appeals court agreed.
Doesn’t mean all streets, sidewalks count as ‘premises’
However, the appeals court pointed out that the fact that it upheld the commission’s decision doesn’t mean “that a municipal employer’s ‘premises’ for purposes of determining the compensability of an injury to one of its employees incurred while traveling to work would include all streets and sidewalks throughout the municipality.”
Instead, the appeals court said it believes “that a municipal employer’s ‘premises’ in the context of a workers’ compensation claim includes only a place where the injured employee reasonably might be in the performance of his or her duties and any place incident thereto, including employer provided parking areas.”
The appeals court claimed that its reading of the commission’s decision was “based simply on a finding that the parking space where the claimant fell was an employer-provided parking area” since the town allowed its employees to park there in excess of the four-hour limitation imposed upon the general public.