Appeals panel: Northwest Community Hospital worker hurt using elliptical can't both get workers' comp and sue

By Gabriel Neves | Jan 16, 2019

CHICAGO – A state appeals panel says a former hospital employee who injured her arm while using workout equipment can't collect both on her workers' comp claim and press a personal injury lawsuit against her employer.

On Jan. 10, a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court affirmed a Cook County judge's decision to turn aside the lawsuit filed by plaintiff Maria Rojas against The Wellness Center and Northwest Community Hospital. 

The ruling was authored by Justice Eileen O'Neill Burke, with justices Margaret McBride and Jesse Reyes concurring.

The decision is an unpublished order issued under Supreme Court Rule 23, which limits its use as precedent.

According to court documents, Rojas, who worked as a Spanish-speaking interpreter at Northwest Community in Arlington Heights, was using an elliptical machine at the Wellness Center outside of her normal work hours on March 20, 2013. When the screen malfunctioned on the machine, Rojas then reached for it, but instead struck her arm with one of the machine's moving bars. 

Rojas then filed a claim for workers' compensation, but also filed a civil lawsuit against the hospital over her injuries.

While the civil suit was pending, Rojas settled her workers’ comp claim, obtaining a lump sum.

The hospital then filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming Rojas had already recovered for her injuries under the Worker's Compensation Act, as the law prohibits double recovery. The motion was granted by the lower court.

On appeal, Rojas argued the lower court erred in granting the motion, claiming that, "the 'dual capacity' doctrine subjects defendant to both civil liability and workers’ compensation liability for her injury," as the defendants "can be liable for injuries both as her employer and separately as the owner of the Wellness Center," the ruling states. She sustained that the hospital "had a duty as her employer to provide a safe work environment and a duty as the owner of the Wellness Center to provide a safe environment for the public to exercise," the ruling states.

In her ruling, Burke wrote "the Circuit Court did not err in granting defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint," and that "plaintiff’s claim falls within the provisions of the Act and thus the rescission of the settlement agreement would not circumvent the Act’s exclusivity provision."

According to Cook County court records, Rojas is represented by attorney Marc S. Mayer, of Chicago.

Northwest Community is represented by attorneys with the firm of Barker Castro LLC, of Chicago. 

Illinois 1st District Appellate Court case number 1-17-2207

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Barker and Castro LLC Circuit Court of Cook County Illinois First District Appellate Court Marc S. Mayer & Associates Northwest Community Hospital

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