IL WC UPDATE: Slip on Stairs After Work Falls into Gray Area

The Appellate Court recently reversed a Commission decision and requested additional findings from the Commission.  In MELANIE MARTIN, Appellant, v. THE ILLINOIS WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION et al., 2018 IL App (3d) 170344WC-U, the petitioner alleged an accident on January 6, 2015, after she had logged off of her computer at approximately 6 PM.  She began walking down the stairwell of her building to leave but then remembered that her cell phone was still upstairs on her desk.  While she was walking back up, she fell on a step that she alleged had a damaged or missing tread, injuring her low back.

She testified that each step had a treaded “lip or overhang” and that, on the stair in question, this lip was, “back a bit from the edge of the stair.”  Photographs taken by the petitioner depicted the missing part of the tread.  A witness from the employer investigated the stairs at issue and testified that there was some missing tread on the edges but that it was not “defective enough for someone to trip on.”

The Arbitrator ruled that the petitioner did not suffer an accident that arose out of and in the course of her employment, noting that the petitioner had already logged out and had began leaving when the fall occurred, that the decision to return for her cell phone was only for her own benefit, and that the tread at issue was, “not raised or buckled, and in fact even where the piece was missing, the height of the strip was exactly the same as that around the perimeter of the strip, namely 1/8 [of an inch].”

The Commission and Circuit Court affirmed the Arbitrator’s decision, but the Appellate Court reversed, deciding that the Petitioner was in the course of her employment and that the Commission had not properly analyzed whether the damaged strip had contributed to or caused the petitioner’s fall, and thus whether the claimant was exposed to an employment related risk.

The Court noted that an employee on the work premises who is arriving at or leaving work by a normal route and timeframe is within the course of their employment; the fact that the petitioner had not actually left the building before turning back for her cell phone was significant to the Court.  The Court also cited this fact in its analysis of whether the petitioner’s accident arose out of her employment.  Finally, the Court found that the decisive issue was whether the stairs were defective, and whether this defect contributed to the petitioner’s fall.  The Court stated that the Arbitrator’s finding on the nature of the missing tread was inconclusive and did not reach the final step of determining whether a potential defect exposed the petitioner to an employment related risk.   The Court remanded to the Commission for further elaboration on this issue.

Thanks to to Michael Bantz for this summary. Michael works out of the Champaign office of I&F and can be reached at mbantz@inmanfitzgibbons.combbons.com.

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