December 12, 2018

“Unexplained” Slip and Falls at the Workplace

For the “clumsy” person, occasional bumps, slips, and falls, are a way of life. People can lose their footing for no apparent reason, and through no fault of anything or anyone. But what happens to the clumsy worker who, say, slips and falls at work and suffers more than just a scrape, cut, or bruised ego? Can that worker seek compensation for his mysterious injuries by filing a Workers’ Compensation claim?

The Illinois Appellate Court (4th District) recently addressed this question. Although the question had been asked before, the answer wasn’t very clear. In this case, the claimant (a security guard) was (in the course of her work duties) patrolling her employer’s property, a job which required her to descend a metal staircase. In doing so, she slipped and fell, landing on her left side. Although she could venture some guesses as to the reason she fell- she had recently walked through a freezer, for example- she could not provide any meaningful explanation for her fall, such as a defect in the stairway or a puddle of liquid.

An arbitrator denied her claim for Workers’ Compensation for this very reason. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission also denied her claim, a decision which was upheld by the appellate court. The court explained that a claimant bears the burden of proving that her injury arose “in the course of the employment.” For an injury caused by an unexplained fall to arise out of the employment, a claimant must present evidence which supports a reasonable inference that the fall stemmed from a risk related to the employment. If the injury comes about because of a condition to which the general public is equally exposed, the injury does not arise out of employment and the Workers’ Compensation claim will be denied.

Of course, because the claimant/employee in this case couldn’t testify to any explanation for her fall, the Court could not find that the reason for her fall was due to a risk related to her employment. Given the claimant’s testimony, or lack thereof, it would seem instead that her injuries were caused by one of those ubiquitous unexplained falls, that can happen to anyone at anytime, regardless of their place of employment.

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