Articles & Updates

McAllister v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission

The claimant was employed as a sous-chef. His job duties involved checking in orders, arranging the restaurant’s walk-in cooler, making sauces, prepping and cooking food. On the date of accident, the claimant was setting up his station for the evening shift when another cook mentioned that he might have misplaced a pan of carrots in the walk-in cooler. The claimant went into the cooler to locate the pan of carrots. While kneeling he checked the top, middle and bottom shelves. As he attempted to stand up from his kneeling position, he felt his right knee pop. He had a prior work related surgery to the right knee in 2013 and no treatment since then.

The Arbitrator found that claimant’s act of looking for the misplaced pan of carrots in the walk-in cooler was an act he could have been reasonably expected to perform in his job and that the injury arose out of his employment. The Arbitrator awarded PPD, TTD, medical expenses and penalties. The Commission reversed the decision and found that it was not compensable. The Commission held that the claimant failed to prove that his knee injury arose out of his employment because he was subjected to a neutral risk which had no particular employment or personal characteristics. The Commission held that the claimant had not established that he was exposed to a risk greater than the general public.

The Commission’s decision and denial of the case was affirmed by the Circuit Court. It was also affirmed on appeal by the Appellate Court. All five Appellate Justices agreed with the denial but there was a split on the rationale. “The panel disagreed on whether a compensable injury can arise out of an employee’s employment when the employee is injured while performing job duties that involve common bodily movements or routine “everyday activities” such as bending, twisting, reaching or standing up from a kneeling position.” Three of the justices found that the risk posed to the claimant from the act of standing from a kneeling position while looking for something that had been misplaced by a co-worker, was not distinctly related to his employment. Two other Justices cited a different reason for denial. They noted that a claimant who is injured while performing an everyday activity such as standing up from a kneeling position could only obtain compensation under the Act if it could be established that the job duties required him to engage in that activity to a greater degree than the general public.

The Illinois Supreme Court held that the issue in this case was whether the claimant’s injure arose out of his employment. To satisfy this requirement it must be shown that the injury has its origin in some risk connected with, or incidental to, the employment so as to create a causal connection between the employment and the accident injury. The Court noted that there are three categories of risk for an employee:

1. Risks distinctly associated with the employmentThese are obvious kinds of injuries such as such as tripping slipping at a construction site, lifting heavy material, etc. These types of injuries are compensable.

2. Risks personal to the employeeThese are risks that include personal infirmities or illness and are generally not compensable. An exception to this rule exists when the work place conditions significantly contribute to the injury or expose the employee to added or increased risk of injury.

3. Neutral risks which have no particular employment or personal characteristics - These types of risk have no particular employment or personal characteristics. Injuries resulting from a neutral risk are generally not compensable unless some aspect of the employment, either qualitatively or quantitatively exposed the claimant to a risk greater than the general public.

The Court held that the first step in the risk analysis is to determine whether the claimant’s injuries arose out of an employment related risk. A risk is distinctively associated with a claimant’s employment if he or she was performing: (1) act he or she was instructed to perform by the employer, (2) act that he or she had a common-in law or statutory duty to perform, or (3) act that the employee might reasonably be expected to perform incident to his or her assigned duties.

Applying that analysis, the Court found that the claimant’s knee injury arose out of an employment related risk because it was caused by one of the risks distinctly associated with his employment as a sous chef. It was noted that an employee who sustains an injury while rendering reasonably needed assistance to a coworker in furtherance of the employer’s business is considered to have suffered an injury arising out of an in the course of the employment when the act performed is within the reasonable contemplation of what the employee may do in the service of the employer. The Court found that as one of the claimant’s job duties was to arrange the walk-in cooler, once he learned that a fellow chef had misplaced a pan of carrots in the walk-in cooler, it would be reasonable for the employer to expect the claimant to assist the coworker in looking for the pan of carrots as he would be most familiar with the cooler.

The Court held that common bodily movements and everyday activities are compensable and employment related if the common bodily movement resulting in an injury had its origin in some risks connected with, or incidental to, employment so as to create a causal connection between the employment and the accidental injury. Moreover, the Court specifically stated that prior case law that ruled injuries in the workplace attributable to common bodily movements or routine everyday activities such as bending, twisting, reaching, or standing up from a kneeling position, are not compensable unless a claimant can prove the claimant was exposed to a risk of injury to a greater extent than the general public are overruled.

THE TAKE AWAYS:

• The Supreme Court’s decision potentially makes it easier for claimant’s to prove a work related injury.

• Common bodily movements, such as squatting, sitting and standing will be viewed as compensable if the claimant can show that it was incidental to the employment.

• Previously the analysis involved whether there was a quantitative factor (such as frequency of kneeling, squatting, etc.) or qualitative factor (such as some situation unique to that particular employment).

Claimants attorneys are already pushing the McAllister Decision to support their compensability argument on claims.

• These cases are very fact specific. The initial investigation often will “make or break” the case.