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Wait v. Travelers Indemnity Co. of Illinois

    Brief Fact Summary. Kristina Wait (P) was attacked by an acquaintance whom she let into her home office while working.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Under the workers’ compensation act, a compensable injury is one which occurs as a result of and in the process of the plaintiff’s occupation.

    Facts. Kristina Wait (P) worked for the American Cancer Society as Director of Health Initiative and Strategic Planning. She worked out of a bedroom in her home, which she had converted into an office and furnished as such with the full concurrence and support of the ACS. Her supervisor and co-workers attended ACS meetings at her home. On September 3, 2004, she was working from home. At around noontime, while preparing lunch, she was attacked by a neighbor, Nathaniel Sawyers, whom she let in when he rang the bell. She was left with head injury, broken bones and permanent nerve damage. She tried to collect worker’s compensation insurance since she had been working at home during the time of her attack. The trial court gave summary judgment for the defendant, Travelers Indemnity Co. of Illinois (D), because it was of the view that the injury did not arise out of her work with ACS. Wait appealed the decision

    Issue. Under the workers’ compensation act, is a compensable injury one which occurs both as a result of and in the process of the plaintiff’s occupation?

    Held. (Barker, C.J) Yes. Under the workers’ compensation act, a compensable injury is one which occurs as a result of and in the process of the plaintiff’s occupation. These two aspects need to be satisfied to receive compensation. The injury which occurs during the course of the job is one which falls within the time period of employment, at the location of the employment, and during the course of the employee’s duties or any other duty following on his work. If he is on a lunch or other personal break when the injuries occur, such injuries are also generally compensable. All these criteria are met in Wait’s case, and so her injury was suffered in the course of her employment. However, her injury must also arise out of, or have a causal relationship with her employment. Based on prior court decisions, work-related assaults may be categorized as (1) Those which are in themselves related to the job, such as payment disputes. These are eligible for compensation. (2) Those which are private but carried over into the workplace, such as a domestic assault. These are not compensable. (3) Those which arise from neutral forces. Their origin is not related to the employment. Whether they are compensable or not depends on the circumstances surrounding each case. In Wait’s case, it depends on whether a connection can be traced to some specific risk inbuilt into the employment. Here there is no obvious need for Wait to expose herself to the public during the course of her work. Such a need, as in the case of truck drivers, might supply a connection between the job and the injury which is seen as causal. This is known as the “street risk†doctrine. But here the connection between the ACS employment and the assault is non-existent, as she was neither guarding ACS property nor attacked because of her work, or because she belonged to ACS. Thus it was a neutral assault within the workplace. Thus the court is right in affirming that her injury did not result from her employment.

    Dissent. N/A

    Concurrence. N/A

    Discussion. The fallout of this verdict is that workers at home may also avail of worker’s compensation if eligible. A home-based business employee may complain of carpal tunnel syndrome if it arises out of computer use during working hours at home. However, it is needful to prove that the injury arose out of the working conditions in some way. In this case, Wait’s allowing Sawyers into her home was not related to her work and hence the assault was not connected with her employment.


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