Workers’ compensation is meant to provide coverage to workers who suffer an injury at work. While most people associate workers’ comp with serious work injuries, there is nothing that says benefits cannot be given to an employee who suffers an “everyday injury,” such as a strain or ‘pop’ when kneeling, bending over, or overextending. That is what the Illinois Supreme Court recently upheld.
A Simple Knee Injury Starts It All
A sous chef in Illinois hurt his knee while standing up from a kneeling position. He had been looking for some food in the walk-in cooler when he kneeled to look at a low shelf. After it became clear that the pop in his knee had locked it and would not heal readily on its own, he was taken to urgent care for attention, but he never received any workers’ compensation to pay for medical benefits. He even had to miss more than a month of work without wage replacement benefits.
Later, when the injured cook tried to get workers’ compensation benefits, the insurance company denied his claim. The argument was poised that his knee injury was an “everyday injury” that probably would’ve happened the next time he knelt, whether he was at work or not. The insurer said that the extent of his work caused a “neutral risk” of this injury occurring, meaning it did not directly contribute to it happening. Under this reasoning, the insurance company did not think it should have to pay for his benefits.
A higher circuit and appellate court actually agreed with the insurance company. They thought that because he was hurt due to kneeling, which is an everyday activity not related to his employment, he should not be owed workers’ compensation benefits. The case had to move up to the Illinois Supreme Court.
State’s Highest Court Supports the Claimant
In a review of the sous chef’s knee injury claim, the Illinois Supreme Court questioned whether it was legally fair to decide a case on whether or not the action that hurt the employee was caused by some risk of the employment. It also questioned the lower court’s decision that kneeling was completely unrelated to his job. After all, he had knelt in order to look for food on a lower shelf in the walk-in cooler. He had not been kneeling just for kneeling’s sake or some personal reason.
In an acknowledgment that he had knelt for his job, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the lower decisions and ruled in favor of the claimant. The ruling also further protected future cases in which a claimant cites an “everyday injury” as a reason for needing workers’ compensation benefits. If the Court had ruled otherwise, then insurance companies in the state would have an open opportunity to broadly challenge a wide variety of cases in the future.
With this ruling in place, workers’ compensation claimants should not feel deterred to explore their legal options after any sort of injury that happens at work or while working. At the least, injured Illinois workers should speak with a local workers’ compensation before deciding to file for benefits or not.
Leonard Law Group offers comprehensive legal representation and support in Chicago. Call (312) 487-2513 if you need an attorney’s help after a workplace injury.