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The Illinois Supreme Court Says Petitioner Does Not Have to Show Increased Risk from General Public

 

In Illinois several appellate court cases had held that a petitioner in a workers compensation claim must show that he or she had been exposed to a risk of injury to a degree greater than the public in order to prove a compensable accident.  The Supreme Court in Illinois has now been corrected that rule by holding that an injury victim need only prove he or she got injured and work-related accident. The case is called McAllister vs Illinois Workers Compensation Commission.

This case applies to common everyday activities like standing from the kneeling position, bending, reaching, or twisting.  In older cases courts had ruled that petitioner had proved his job duties require him to engage in an activity to a greater degree than the general public, even in situations where the activity is directly related to the claimant’s job duties.

This case involves a sous chef who bent to help a co-worker find some carrots in the walk-in refrigerator.  When the petitioner bent down to find the carrots, he found felt a pop in his knee. He indicated on cross examination that his position in the floor was like the position he would be in if you were looking for something under his bed.

The arbitrator awarded benefits. The Illinois Workers Compensation Commission set aside the arbitrators decision finding that this was a neutral risk which had no particular employment or personal characteristics. Petitioner appealed to the circuit court which affirmed the majority decision of the commission. Similarly, the appellate court affirmed the judgment of circuit court, which had affirmed the commission’s decision.

The Supreme Court accepted the case. First it decided that this is a question of law, so it applied the de novo standard. Next the Supreme Court reviewed the issues of “In the course of employment” and “arising out of” employment. The court found that a compensable injury occurs in the course of employment when it is sustained while at work and or performing reasonable activities in conjunction with employment. The court said that the phrase “In the course of employment” refers to the time place and circumstances of the injury. The employer did not dispute that the claimant sustained a knee injury while performing activities in conjunction with his employment. Therefore, the court only looked at the question whether the claimant’s knee injury arose out of his employment.

The court explained the three categories of risk to which a claimant may be exposed. These are 1) risks distinctly associated with employment 2) risks personal to the employee and 3) neutral risks which have no particular employment or personal characteristics. The Supreme Court found that the injury arose out of an employment related risk because the evidence established that at the time of the occurrence is injury was caused by one of the risks distinctly associated with his employment as a sous chef.

This is a nice case for injury victims. The rule that a workers’ compensation victim must prove an increased risk over the general public was a bad rule that really had no statutory basis. The statute makes no mention of a risk over and above that of the general public. The courts had completely created the concept to the detriment of injured workers. Hopefully, the courts will continue to follow this precedent in Illinois.

If you get injured at work, contact Ackerman Law Office. 217-789-1977

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