Appellate Court Overturns the Commission; Finds Accident Not Compensable 

KVF Quad Corp v. IWCC, 2016 IL App (3d) 150139WC-Unpublished

By: Conor P. Desmond - Associate, Nyhan, Bambrick, Kinzie & Lowry

Synopsis: Injuries that arise from a neutral risk, that do not arise out of an employee’s work, are not compensable. Even if employees are required to wear safety boots, tripping while wearing the boots is not compensable on its own merits absent some showing that the trip was connected to the employment itself.

 

Facts: Employer required its employees to wear footwear with a steel toe and metatarsal guard and would reimburse the employees up to $100 per year for footwear. While Employer provided a list of local stores known to carry such footwear, Employer did not require the employees to purchase their footwear from those stores nor did it require its employees to buy a particular style of footwear. Petitioner testified she selected high top boots for added protection, and she picked her boots because they were comfortable. The lacing system on the upper portion of Petitioner’s boots consisted of three pairs of hooks or “speed laces.” 

 

Petitioner alleged she sustained an accidental injury on June 20, 2012. It was a hot day and Claimant had been working outside; she came inside to get a bottle of water and when she turned to go the refrigerator, the lace from her left boot got caught on one of the speed lace hooks on her right boot, causing her to fall over. Petitioner injured her left shoulder in the fall

 

The Arbitrator denied benefits finding Petitioner failed to prove she sustained a compensable accident. On review, the Commission reversed. Specifically, the Commission found Petitioner would not have been wearing steel-toed boots with metatarsal supports “but-for” her employment, and therefore Petitioner was exposed to a greater risk of injury than the general public. 

 

On appeal, Employer argued Petitioner’s injury was not incidental to her employment and the appellate court agreed. The court first reiterated the categories of risk to which an employee may be exposed: 1) employment risks; 2) personal risks; and 3) neutral risks; the court then emphasized injuries from neutral risks are not compensable unless the conditions of employment created a risk to which the general public is not exposed. As the risk of tripping over one’s shoelaces was a neutral risk, Petitioner bore the burden of proving she was exposed to an increased risk. The court reiterated that while it is reluctant to set aside a Commission’s resolution of a factual question, it will not hesitate to do so when the clearly evident, plain, and indisputable weight of evidence compels an opposite conclusion, and this was just such an instance. The court noted neither Petitioner’s workplace conditions nor the steel toe policy contributed to the risk of her falling as a result of her left boot lace catching on a hook on her right boot. To the contrary, this accident “could have happened anytime and anywhere.” The court held Petitioner failed to prove she sustained a compensable injury and reversed the Commission’s decision.

 

Impact on Illinois Employers: This case represents a rare situation where an explained fall at work was deemed not compensable. The appellate court noted this accident could have happened anywhere and at any time the employee was wearing these boots, negating the argument Petitioner was exposed to a greater risk of injury than the general public. It is notable that this case was an unpublished decision, meaning it holds no precedential value in future cases, but it reveals the appellate court’s thought process on analyzing whether an employee’s injury arose out of their employment. 

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