On September 24, 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court filed its decision in the case of Kevin McAllister v. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. The Supreme Court held that the Commission’s finding that the claimant’s accidental knee injury did not arise out of his employment is against the manifest weight of the evidence, and reversed the Commission’s decision as well as the judgments of the lower courts.
On August 7, 2014, McAllister was working at a restaurant setting up his station for the evening shift when another cook mentioned that he may have misplaced a pan of carrots in the walk-in cooler. McAllister went into the walk-in cooler to locate the pan of carrots, and knelt down on both knees to check the top, middle and bottom shelves. When McAllister tried to stand up from kneeling, he felt his right knee pop. His right knee then locked up, and McAllister was unable to straighten his leg. He had to hop into the general manager’s office to sit down and tell him what happened, after which the general manager drove McAllister to the hospital.
THE ARBITRATOR’S DECISION
The Arbitrator got this case right, finding that McAllister’s act of looking for the misplaced pan of carrots in the walk-in cooler was an act the employer reasonably could have expected him to perform in his duties as a sous-chef. In addition to awarding benefits, the Arbitrator found that the employer’s refusal to pay benefits was dilatory, retaliatory, and objectively unreasonable. For that reason, the Arbitrator also awarded penalties and attorney fees.
THE COMMISSION DECISION
The employer filed a petition for review of the Arbitrator’s decision. On review, the Commission set aside the Arbitrator’s decision, finding that McAllister 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. In other words, the Commission decided that the act of getting up from a kneeling position did not have any peculiar employment characteristics and that McAllister had failed to establish that he was exposed to this “neutral risk” to a greater degree than the general public. One Commissioner did dissent, stating that he would have affirmed the Arbitrator’s decision in its entirety.
THE CIRCUIT COURT DECISION
The Circuit Court agreed with the Commission, finding that McAllister’s act of standing up from a kneeling position was a neutral risk that did not expose him to more risk than the general public.
THE APPELLATE COURT DECISION
A majority of the Appellate Court affirmed the Commission’s decision. All five justices agreed with the Commission’s determination that claimant was not injured due to an employment related risk and that the determination was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. 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.
THE SUPREME COURT’S DECISION
The Supreme Court states that the first step in risk analysis is to determine whether the claimant’s injuries arose out of an employment-related risk. A risk is distinctly associated with an employee’s employment if, at the time of the occurrence, the employee was performing:
- Acts he or she was instructed to perform by the employer,
- Acts that he or she had a common-law or statutory duty to perform, or
- Acts that the employee might reasonably be expected to perform incident to his or her assigned duties.
The Supreme Court found that McAllister’s knee injury did arise out of an employment related risk because the evidence establishes that at the time of the occurrence his injury was caused by one of the risks distinctly associated with his employment as a sous-chef. The evidence established that the acts that caused claimant’s knee injury (kneeling down on the floor in the walk-in cooler to look for a pan of carrots misplaced by a coworker and then standing up from the kneeling position injuring his knee) were risks incident to the employment because these were acts his employer might reasonably expect him to perform in fulfilling his assigned job duties as a sous-chef.
The Supreme Court went on to find that a compensable injury can arise out of an employee’s employment when the employee was injured performing job duties that involve common bodily movements or everyday activities if it is established that the risk of injury falls within one of the three categories of employment-related acts listed above. The Supreme Court emphasized 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. There is no requirement that a claimant provide additional evidence establishing that he was exposed to the risk of injury to a greater degree than the general public once he has proven that he was involved in an employment-related accident.
If you have been injured while performing an act that you were instructed to perform by your employer, or an act that you had a duty to perform, or even an act that your employer might reasonably expect you to perform as part of your job duties, then you have suffered a compensable accident. Even if that accident was something as simple as getting up from a kneeling position, you may be entitled to substantial benefits and compensation for your injuries. Do not hesitate to contact me today for a free consultation.