Claimant Was Denied Benefits Because She Was Only a Volunteer and Not an Employee

Claimant Was Denied Benefits Because She Was Only a Volunteer and Not an Employee

| Jun 23, 2020 | Firm News

In yet another decision involving an interesting and unusual set of facts, a claimant was found to be ineligible to receive benefits under the Worker’s Compensation Act, because she only worked as a volunteer for a business and was not a wage-earning employee. See Lack of employment relationship stalls out pilot’s claim for benefits. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Law Bulletin, Volume 28, Issue 6, May 15, 2020, p. 2.[1]  The case discussed in the article, Larson v. Quad City Skydiving Center, 28 ILWCLB 56 (Ill. W.C. Comm. 2020), involved a claimant who, while working as a volunteer pilot on Sundays for a skydiving business, was injured in a plane crash while flying for the business.[2]  The claimant, who was still a pilot in training, was allowed to fly for the skydiving business, so she could acquire the necessary flight hours and experience to obtain her pilot certification (which eventually enabled her to become a paid commercial pilot for an airline).[3]  As mentioned above, the claimant was involved in an accident in which she was forced to crash land the plane that she was flying, with her suffering injuries as a result.[4]  The arbitrator found for the claimant, probably due to the claimant’s flying activities being dangerous, but the Commission reversed the arbitrator’s decision upon review, finding that, since the claimant received no monetary compensation of any kind while flying for the skydiving business, no employer-employee relationship existed.[5]  As the claimant was therefore not an employee under the Worker’s Compensation Act, she could not receive worker’s compensation benefits.[6]  The Commission partly based its reversal of the arbitrator’s decision on an Illinois Supreme Court case, Board of Education v. Industrial Commission, in which a college student was denied benefits after being injured while working at an public elementary school as a volunteer for college course credit.[7]  Like the claimant in the instant case, the student volunteer in Board of Education was deemed to not have been working for pay, and thus was found to not have been eligible to receive benefits.[8]

The claimant in the skydiving case was in an impossible situation, since she was not paid at all for being allowed to fly (the skydiving business supplied the planes and fuel for her to fly, but it did not compensate the claimant).  While the volunteer flying was a means to an end for the claimant (indeed, it enabled her to obtain eventual paid employment as an airline pilot), the claimant’s flying for the skydiving business was not employment in the true sense and meaning of the word, which would have been necessary for the claimant to ever receive benefits.

— Attorney Matthew Ludwinski

[1]See Lack of employment relationship stalls out pilot’s claim for benefits. Illinois Worker’s Compensation Law Bulletin (also cited as ILWCLB), Volume 28, Issue 6, May 15, 2020, p. 2.

[2]See Id.

[3]See Id.

[4]See Id.

[5]See Id.

[6]See Id.

[7]See Id.

[8]See Id.