Collier v. Wagner Castings Co.

Decision Date20 June 1980
Docket NumberNo. 52085,52085
Citation81 Ill.2d 229,408 N.E.2d 198,41 Ill.Dec. 776
Parties, 41 Ill.Dec. 776 Vern COLLIER et al., Appellants, v. WAGNER CASTINGS COMPANY et al., Appellees.
CourtIllinois Supreme Court

William J. Harte, Ltd., Chicago, and Scheele, Murphy & Serkland, Ltd., LaGrange (James C. Serkland, LaGrange, and William J. Harte, Chicago, of counsel), for appellants.

Samuels, Miller, Schroeder, Jackson & Sly, Decatur (Jerald E. Jackson and Keith W. Casteel, Decatur, of counsel), for appellees.

CLARK, Justice:

At issue in this appeal is whether, assuming the plaintiff's allegations are sufficient to constitute a cause of action for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, such a cause of action will lie against the employer and coemployee defendants in view of sections 5(a) and 11 of the Workmen's Compensation Act (Ill.Rev.Stat.1973, ch. 48, pars. 138.5(a), 138.11).

The circuit court of Macon County struck plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a cause of action and entered judgment in favor of defendants. The appellate court affirmed, one judge dissenting. (70 Ill.App.3d 233, 26 Ill.Dec. 641, 388 N.E.2d 265.) We granted leave to appeal. We affirm.

In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action, plaintiffs' pleaded facts are assumed to be true. According to the complaint, the following are the relevant facts.

Vern Collier (hereinafter referred to as plaintiff) was employed by defendant Wagner Castings Company (hereafter Wagner Co.) on March 17, 1975, when he was stricken with an illness at approximately 4:30 p. m. A coworker of plaintiff telephoned defendant William A. Stogner, a licensed nurse or medical attendant employed by Wagner Co., and said that plaintiff was lying sick on the floor complaining of chest pain. Stogner then undertook a course of action with respect to the plaintiff. He instructed the caller to tell plaintiff to walk under his own power to the first-aid station. This station was known to be located over 100 feet away and to require the negotiation of 13 descending and four ascending stairs. The caller told Stogner that the plaintiff appeared too sick to exert the effort necessary to reach the first-aid station. Stogner then instructed the caller to ask the plaintiff whether he could walk to the first-aid station, but Stogner had hung up the phone when the caller returned to it after talking with plaintiff. When finally informed that plaintiff could not reach the station under his own power, Stogner asked the caller to help plaintiff. Unable to help plaintiff by himself, the caller instead requested immediate medical aid for the plaintiff. Stogner apparently agreed to render that aid. A substantial period of time elapsed before Stogner arrived, however.

When he did arrive, Stogner advised plaintiff over a period of 15 minutes that he was suffering from indigestion despite the classic signs and symptoms of impending cardiac arrest: plaintiff was lying on the floor, pale and sweating and complaining of chest pains. Ultimately, after coworkers suggested the possibility of a heart attack, plaintiff was placed on a stretcher and carried to the first-aid station, where he was isolated from family, friends and coworkers for at least three hours, despite his requests for doctor or hospital care.

Stogner then either improperly administered or misinterpreted the results of a blood pressure test, observed plaintiff crawl to a sink and vomit, and proceeded to instruct plaintiff to return to his work area and seek his own relief. After descending four stairs, walking over 100 feet, and ascending 13 more stairs, the plaintiff collapsed and was carried back to the first-aid station. Requests for doctors were denied. A coworker subsequently called plaintiff's wife and informed her of the situation. With her son, she drove 40 miles to remove plaintiff. During this time, Stogner slouched in his chair or leaned against his desk, smoking and reading a book. He did not attempt to render assistance. He did not help plaintiff's wife or son remove plaintiff from the premises. Plaintiff was taken to a hospital, where he suffered three episodes of cardiac arrest that evening. He has not returned to work. It was alleged that either defendants knew or, in the exercise of ordinary care, should have known that their actions would, "with a high degree of probability, cause severe emotional distress," and that "such distress was certain or substantially certain to result therefrom."

According to the pleadings, defendants Wagner Co., John A. Wagner and John A. Wagner, Jr., promulgated rules and regulations and posted notices which announced a company policy to refuse to pay medical expenses for care obtained without the approval of the company medical attendant. These notices and regulations allegedly intimidated plaintiff from seeking medical care before he did.

In addition to these facts in issue, a prior settlement agreement between some of the parties was submitted for the record. It released Wagner Co. from all liabilities under the terms of the Workmen's Compensation Act in consideration for a lump-sum payment of $14,181.57. This settlement was approved by the Industrial Commission.

In count I, plaintiff alleged that the foregoing conduct was extreme and outrageous and beyond all possible bounds of decency. All of the defendants were alleged to have known, or to have failed to exercise ordinary care in finding out, that their conduct would cause severe emotional distress. Damages in excess of $15,000 were claimed.

Count II of the complaint alleged that defendants, "with utter disregard and indifference" to the safety of plaintiff, breached the statutory duty set forth in section 8(a) of the Workmen's Compensation Act (Ill.Rev.Stat.1973, ch. 48, par. 138.8(a)), requiring employers to provide first aid and medical and surgical services reasonably required to relieve the effects of accidental injuries. Basically the same facts were used to support this count, and a $15,000 minimum judgment was claimed for physical and mental injuries proximately caused.

Count III realleged the same facts and asked for punitive damages. Count IV, brought on behalf of plaintiff's wife and son, realleged the same facts and asked for damages related to their emotional distress in witnessing defendants' conduct for the period of time during which they came and picked up the plaintiff. They also asked damages for loss of society and companionship, a request which was not renewed in this appeal. Defendants challenge the sufficiency of the pleadings alleging the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress and the propriety of permitting such a cause of action to go to trial in view of the exclusivity provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act and in view of a prior settlement agreement entered into by the parties.

We consider first count II of the complaint and those portions of count III which are grounded on count II.

Count II of the complaint was grounded upon the breach of section 8(a) of the Workmen's Compensation Act, which requires employers to provide reasonable medical care to injured employees. (Ill.Rev.Stat.1973, ch. 48, par. 138.8(a).) This count cannot state a cause of action against defendants Wagner Co., John A. Wagner and John A. Wagner, Jr., because under the pleaded facts they have breached no statutory duty. As far as the pleaded facts are concerned, these defendants made a reasonable effort to supply medical care: an employee was hired for this purpose. Since there are no reasonable allegations that these defendants directed or encouraged Stogner's conduct or had knowledge of his propensity to act as he did, they had a right to expect that injuries resulting from Stogner's care or lack of it would be compensable under the Act (Lincoln Park Coal & Brick Co. v. Industrial Com. (1925), 317 Ill. 302, 148 N.E. 79) or that they would be liable under the Act for medical care obtained by employees in substitution for care which was supposed to be obtained under the Act. (Lawrence v. Industrial Com. (1945), 391 Ill. 80, 90, 62 N.E.2d 686.) (This principle was made part of the statute by Public Act 79-79, approved June 30, 1975, amending, inter alia, section 8(a).) As to defendant Stogner, plaintiffs have cited no authority under which section 8(a) created a statutory duty of care, the breach of which, with utter disregard and indifference, would remain uncompensated under the Act.

Plaintiffs do not argue the applicability of section 19(m) of the Workmen's Compensation Act (Ill.Rev.Stat.1975, ch. 48, par. 138.19(m)) or of the Health and Safety Act (Ill.Rev.Stat.1975, ch. 48, pars. 137 .1 et seq., 137.5-1), but instead rely solely on Kelsay v. Motorola, Inc. (1978), 74 Ill.2d 172, 23 Ill.Dec. 559, 384 N.E.2d 353. In that case an employee sought benefits under the Act and her employer retaliated by firing her. This court held that a cause of action was stated. The action was necessary to prevent employer abuse of power and to implement and protect the policies of the Act. Kelsay cannot be extended, however, as plaintiffs have requested, to permit common law actions for situations covered by the Act or to allow suit against the innocent employer in this case. Insofar as the receipt of compensation under the Act is an inadequate substitute for prompt medical care, that inadequacy also exists in considering subsequent tort suits.

We turn to consider whether, assuming counts I and IV and those portions of count III based on count I state a cause of action for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, such counts are nevertheless barred in the instant case. Section 5(a) of the Workmen's Compensation Act states in pertinent part:

"(a) No common law or statutory right to recover damages from the employer, his insurer, his broker, any service organization retained by the employer, his insurer or his broker to provide safety service, advice or recommendations for...

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