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IL high court clarifies when injury arises out of job for workers’ comp

On Sept. 24, the Supreme Court of Illinois released its opinion in McAllister v. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC), a case that elaborates on when an injury “arises out of” employment for purposes of workers’ compensation eligibility. The case concerns an injury that occurred when McAllister, a sous chef, hurt his knee when he stood up after kneeling down to find a pan of carrots for a colleague in a walk-in cooler.

Path of the claim

McAllister’s workers’ compensation claim was initially granted by an arbitrator of the WCC. After that, it was denied at every level of administrative and court appeal until reaching the Supreme Court, which reversed the denial, finding that the WCC Commission’s denial of benefits based on a finding that the injury did not arise out of employment was against the manifest weight of the evidence.

Eligible injuries

Eligibility for benefits depends on a finding that the injury arose out of and happened in the course of employment, a two-prong test. The parties agreed that the chef’s knee injury happened in the course of employment but disputed the “arising out of” question.

Injuries must arise out of employment

The Supreme Court explains that to arise out of work, there must be a “causal connection.” The injury must have occurred because of a risk connected to the job.

Illinois courts recognize that there are three kinds of risks in this context:

  • Those “distinctly associated” with the job
  • Those “personal to the employee”
  • Those that are neutral

Those in the first category always arise out of employment. In this case, the court finds that the actions of the claimant at the time of injury were because of risk distinctly associated with the job.

Specifically, the claimant was responsible for organizing the cooler, so when his coworker could not find a pan of carrots, it was natural for McAllister to look for them because he is likely to have a better idea of their location, reasons the court, so the restaurant-employer could reasonably expect that this injury could occur.

In addition, “reasonably needed assistance” to a colleague who is furthering the employer’s business or providing services to the employer also arises out of employment.

For these reasons, the Supreme Court found that the Commission’s denial of benefits was against the manifest weight of the evidence and sent the case back for a decision consistent with the original arbitration decision that had granted benefits.