Matt Mitchell was an Illinois state trooper. On November 23, 2007, he was bombing along Interstate 64 at 126 miles per hour, on his way to an accident scene. He was chatting with his girlfriend and sending text messages. The road was somewhat clogged with holiday travelers. His speeding was not necessary, as help had already arrived at the accident scene. The distracted trooper crossed over the median and hit a car head on. Two sisters, Kelli and Jessica Uhl, were killed instantly. Two other occupants of the car were injured. Trooper Mitchell suffered severe leg injuries.
Speeding for no reason. Texting and talking unrelated to his job. Reckless. Negligent. And, it appears, compensable.
Mitchell pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and reckless driving and was sentenced to 30 months probation. He resigned his position with the state police. He has filed a claim for workers comp benefits, which is likely to be awarded because Mitchell was in the course and scope of employment. In the stipulation during a civil suit filed by the parents of the Uhl sisters, the Illinois attorney general agreed that, despite the criminal negligence, Mitchell was acting in his capacity as a state trooper when the accident occurred. Yes, the speeding was gratuitous, the texting irresponsible, the girl friend chats unrelated to work. But Mitchell was heading to the scene of an accident. He was a jerk and a menace, but he was working.
On the Hook
Illinois taxpayers face an interesting double jeopardy. They are on the hook for the deaths of the Uhl sisters. And they will soon be on the hook for Mitchell's loss of function payments and possibly for permanent total benefits.
It's worth noting that just three days after pleading guilty to the criminal charges, Mitchell testified in a claims hearing that he was not responsible for the crash.
If Mitchell had not been heading for an accident scene, if he was speeding simply because he wore a uniform that allowed him to get away with it, perhaps his claim would be denied under the concept of "wilful intent." We are reminded once again of comp's cornerstone principle of "no fault." There's plenty of fault in this sorry saga, but it does not - alas, it cannot - matter one bit.