Good Samaritan: Hip Check to Vending Machine Awarded


In an unusual claim for benefits, an employee fractured his hip when he hip checked a vending machine to help a female coworker get a bag of potato chips. The vending machine hip check case even received some national attention. The worker hit the vending machine hard enough that he suffered an impacted, displaced fracture of his right hip and required immediate surgery.

Over the objections of his employer, compensation was awarded for both disability and medical benefits. Hip checking the vending machine was not part of his regular job duties but the Commission allowed compensation under the “personal comfort” doctrine. To most people, this might seem a bit unusual but the law provides that personal acts like going to the bathroom or going to the break room are generally considered to be “in the course of" employment and are considered a normal part of expected "personal comfort" necessary for regular employment.

The Appellate Court in Circuit City v. Illinois Workers Compensation Commission (2nd Dist, 5/21/09, modified 7/9/09) viewed the hip check case more like a “ Good Samaritan” case, in that he was coming to the aid of a female coworker. The injured worker testified he bumped the machine with his shoulder rather than an actual hip check and it was further noted that the employer knew that the machine was broken. In this instance, the Appellate Court said that the Commission could find it compensable as long as the actions were reasonably foreseeable.

Past “Good Samaritan” cases have awarded compensation for a traveling employee killed while helping a stranded motorist while driving on a service call (Ace Pest Control, 1965) and in the case of a Chicago harbor master who jumped in to save someone from drowning in Lake Michigan (Metropolitan Water Dist., 1995). The test for compensation depends on whether the actions are reasonably foreseeable.

Thomas A. Robinson, J.D., of Larson's Worker's Compensation Law(LexisNexis) wrote a short article for the Workers’ Comp Kit Blog describing the vending machine incident as a “Chivalrous Act” in coming to the aid of the female coworker. The case is also posted on Illinois Top Cases on the Lexis Larson's WC Law Center.

Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, § 21.01 points out that “personal comfort” acts can be considered part of regular employment but they also note that the acts cannot be unusual or unreasonable.

This case could have just as easily been denied by the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission as an unreasonable act. In fact, the claim probably would have been denied if the injured worker was trying to retrieve his own bag of potato chips rather than assisting a female coworker. The "Chivalrous Act" of helping a female coworker brought it more in line with prior awards under past "Good Samaritan" cases.

To review Illinois workers compensation benefits, contact an Illinois workers compensation attorney.

Chicago Workers Compensation Attorney -- 6-22-09