Although we monitor the appellate court for all cases of importance in the states we cover, we are especially pleased to report on those cases where the courts carefully conduct the compensability analysis and produce a logical decision that can guide us in future cases. Lampert v. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, et al. (Ferrell Hospital, Appellee) is such a case. The facts of the accident are simple. The petitioner worked as a registered nurse for the Respondent. On November 26, 2012, after working a full shift at the hospital, she “clocked out” at approximately 8:00pm and headed to the parking lot where she typically parked her car. She exited the hospital to a set of carpeted, concrete stairs. As she descended the stairs, she reported that she held on to the handrail because it was dark. She slipped off the top step and fell all the way down, causing an injury to her left ankle. She was diagnosed with a left ankle fracture and underwent two surgeries.
At the time of the accident, she had a bag over her shoulder but had nothing in her hands. She described the weather at the time of the fall to be “misting and kind of sleety.” She also testified that it was dark. She admitted that the stairs and parking lot were both open to the general public as well as employees, but noted that most nonemployees used the hospital’s front door or its emergency room door to enter the hospital.
At Arbitration, the petitioner’s claim was denied as she failed to establish that her injury “arose out of” her employment. The petitioner appealed the decision to the appellate court. In a Rule 23 opinion, the appellate court affirmed the decision of the circuit court, commission, and arbitrator.
The basis of the petitioner’s appeal was two-fold: she was exposed to a neutral risk to a greater degree than the general public because (1) it was dark and the stairs were wet and slippery, creating a dangerous condition and (2) she traversed the stairs more often than the general public. The appellate court disposed of the initial argument in that the petitioner never attributed the darkness or weather conditions to the reason that she fell. Instead she simply testified that she slipped on the top step of the staircase. The interesting facet of this case has to do with how the appellate court dealt with the second aspect of her argument that she was exposed to an increased risk as compared to the general public because she traversed the stairs more often.
The court found that there was no evidence presented to distinguish the outdoor stairs claimant was traversing, even if those stairs were wet from rainfall, from any other outdoor stairway. The court did not have any evidence suggesting that the petitioner was more likely to slip and fall on her employer’s premises than she or any other member of the public would be likely to fall on any other outdoor stairway that was exposed to rainfall (citing Dukich v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, 86 N.E.3d 1161.)
This is a good result for all employers. As noted above, the interesting part of this decision is how the appellate court ruled regarding the petitioner’s position that she was exposed to an increased risk because she used the stairs more often than the general public. The appellate court did not blindly agree with the petitioner that just because she used the stairs at least twice a day (if not more as it was not clear from the opinion) she was exposed to an increased risk. Instead, the appellate court looked at the specific facts of the accident. The petitioner did not present any evidence that this particular set of stairs was more likely to cause a slip and fall as opposed to any other set of outdoor stairs used by the public. Interestingly, the appellate court did not conduct an analysis as to how often this particular petitioner used this particular set of stairs, limiting its review of the facts to the specifics of the stairs and the accident.
While the value of this opinion is limited as it was released under Rule 23 (cannot be cited), it does present a framework for disputing accidents for similar situations.
Thanks to I&F attorney Frank Johnston for the reminder and update. Frank works out of the Champaign office and is a member of the Champaign County Bar Association, Vermilion County Bar Association, and a founding member of the Young Lawyers Network and Champaign County Young Lawyers division. He has presented topics at the Champaign and Vermilion County Bar Associations.