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Illinois Supreme Court Lowers Employees Burden of Proof for “arises out of” Element of Workers’ Compensation

The Illinois Supreme Court recently issued its long-awaited decision in McAllister v. Commission, providing a bright-line test for whether an accident “arises out of” employment involving injuries resulting from everyday activities.

In McAllister,the employee injured his right knee while working as a sous chef at a restaurant in Illinois. The employee was kneeling on the floor looking for misplaced carrots, and while standing up from the kneeling position, felt a pop in his knee. The knee then locked up and he was unable to straighten it.

In short, the Illinois Supreme Court overruled Adcock’s prior holding that activities of everyday life must be analyzed under the “neutral risk” approach – even when that activity is incidental or unique to employment. This new ruling provides a clearer “arising out of” analysis or test in dealing with these types of fact-intensive cases while simultaneously holding that activities of everyday life can be compensable employment risks, which potentially undermines an employer’s ability to defend these types of cases under the “positional risk” doctrine.

Specifically, the Illinois Supreme Court provided guidelines about how to correctly analyze compensability issues for whether a petitioner’s injury “arises out of” employment. The Court explained in its decision that the proper analysis first requires categorizing which type of risk applies, including: (1) an employment risk; (2) a personal risk; or (3) a neutral risk.

Generally speaking, the Court held that (1) employment risks (those that are unique or incidental to employment) are compensable if the petitioner is instructed to perform the task, has a statutory or common law duty to perform the task, or it is reasonably expected they would perform that task as part of their job. The Court further held that (2) personal risks (idiopathic or personal to employee) are generally not compensable unless the workplace significantly contributed to the injury or exposes the employee to a greater risk. Finally, the Court held (3) neutral risks (those that are neither particular to employment nor personal) are compensable if they quantitatively or qualitatively expose the petitioner to a greater risk than the general public.

In this case, the Illinois Supreme Court determined the petitioner’s act of helping out a co-worker by searching for misplaced food and kneeling/crouching to find those items was incidental to or distinctly associated with his employment duties as a sous chef. The Court found it was reasonably expected that the petitioner would perform this task to fulfill his job duties.

The Court also recognized that it is generally compensable when a person is injured while assisting a co-worker in furthering their duties. Because the petitioner was in charge of organizing the cooler where the carrots were located (and misplaced), the Court found it was reasonably expected that he would assist the co-worker and search for carrots. This act was not so remote from his employment (as the appellate court found) for the neutral risk analysis to apply. Instead, this act was found to be incidental to his employment, and an employment risk, for the reasons stated above.

The Illinois Supreme Court then went a step further to clarify, generally, that everyday activities (such as walking, bending, reaching, etc.) need to first be analyzed under the employment risk analysis as a starting point. And then, if no employment risk is found, it should be analyzed under the personal and/or neutral risk analyses accordingly.

Further, if the injury occurred as a result of an everyday activity and it is found to be an employment risk, then there is no need to analyze it under the personal or neutral risk analysis, as the employment risk prong is met, which is sufficient for satisfying the “arising out of” analysis under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.

This is supported by the prior holding in Caterpillar but reverses Adcock’s ruling that everyday activities fall under the neutral risk analysis automatically, because if it qualifies as an employment risk, the Illinois Supreme Court determined there is no need to analyze it under the neutral risk approach. Whereas, Adcock required a petitioner prove exposure to a greater risk of injury than the exposure of the general public, the McAllister Court looked at whether the injury resulted from an employment risk, and in finding that it in fact did, ultimately found the case compensable. The Court further stated that everyday activities – like the activity of bending down and crouching in this case – can be employment risks in certain instances.

If you have concerns about how this decision may affect you or questions about Illinois Workers’ Compensation, contact Brent Neumeyer

Disclaimer and warning: This information was published by McAnany, Van Cleave & Phillips, P.A., and is to be used only for general informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. This is not inclusive of all exceptions and requirements which may apply to any individual claim. It is imperative to promptly obtain legal advice to determine the rights, obligations and options of a specific situation.