Continual Use of Stairway Found Compensable

The Second District Appellate Court recently affirmed the Commission’s holding that a community service officer’s accident while walking down a stairway at the police station arose out of and in the course of his employment.

In Village of Villa Park v. Illinois Workers’ Comp. Comm’n, the claimant fell down stairs when his right knee buckled. At the time of accident he was on duty and going down to the locker room at the police station; thereby, allegedly injuring his right knee and lower back. He testified that several months prior to the work accident, while on vacation, he slipped on ice and injured the same knee. That same day he fell off a woodpile and further twisted his knee. After these initial falls, the claimant was diagnosed with complex tears and knee surgery was recommended.

The Courts at all levels, found the right knee condition to be unrelated to the work accident; however, the back condition was deemed to be related to a compensable work accident. The Court found when an employee is continually forced to use a stairway, both for personal comfort and to complete their work related tasks, and the employer knows of the employee’s weakened condition, the employee’s employment placed the employee in a position with a greater risk of falling. Further, the frequency with which the employee is required to traverse the stairs, in this case approximately six times per day, constituted an increased risk on a quantitative basis for that to which the general public is exposed.

This is an important case as employers tend to analyze risk in the work place by examining job duties and looking to eliminate obviously hazardous environments.  This case highlights the fact that employers will have exposure to injuries to employees with pre-existing conditions where the “risk” is something as routine or mundane as ordinary stair climbing.

Thanks to attorney Kristin Thomas for preparing this excellent summary.

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