Recent Illinois Appellate Decision Expands the Law for what is a Compensable Injury “Arising Out Of” Employment, Making more Activities a Risk of the Employment
By: Anna M. Campbell
In May, the Appellate Court of Illinois in Brais v. Ill. Workers’ Comp. Comm’n, 2014 Il App (3d) 120820WC , 10 N.E.3d 403 (Ill. App. 3rd Dist. 2014) analyzed whether an injury arose out of claimant’s employment under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, 820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (2006). To be compensable under the Act, an injury must be one “arising out of and in the course of the employment.” 820 ILCS 305/2 (2006). An injury is sustained ‘in the course’ of employment when it occurs during employment, at a place where the worker may reasonably perform employment duties or engage in some incidental employment duties. An injury “arises out of” one’s employment if it originates from a risk connected with, or incidental to, the employment, so as to create a causal connection between the employment and the accidental injury.
In this case, claimant worked as a child support coordinator in the Kankakee County Courthouse and in December 2006, when she was returning to her office from a work-related meeting at the administration building which was a couple blocks from the courthouse, her heel caught in a defect in the sidewalk and she fell, injuring her wrist. She had to enter the courthouse through the front entrance to the courthouse where the general public entered because the employee entrance at the back was locked at that time.
The court looked to prior case law involving exposure to a special hazard or risk related to employment in analyzing whether the claimant’s injury arose out of her employment. The court noted when an employee is injured in an area which is the sole or usual route to the employer’s premises, and there is a special risk or hazard on the route, the hazard becomes part of the employment. The special hazards or risk encountered as a result of using the sole or usual access route satisfy the arising out of requirement of the Act. Here, the front entrance to the courthouse was not only a usual access route for the claimant, it was her sole route since the employee entrance was locked. The court found because of the demands of the claimant’s job that she attend meetings at the administration building, her risk of injury on the defective and cracked sidewalk was greater than the general public, even though this same sidewalk hazard was faced by the general public.
Based on this recent case law, it appears that more claims will be deemed compensable even when an employee encounters a risk to which the general public is equally subjected. However, these cases continue to be very fact-specific.