All risks causing injury to employees can be brought within one of three claims:
- Risks that are distinctly associated with employment;
- Risks that are personal to the claimant;
- “Neutral risks,” which have no particular employment or personal character.
The first are almost always compensable. These are injuries that happen on the job and are connected with one’s job performance. The second are typically not compensable, though there are exceptions. These would be injuries like choking while eating your lunch or suffering a seizure at work that wasn’t caused by anything work-related.
Then there are neutral risks. These often garner the most controversy when it comes to courts weighing workers’ compensation benefits. Generally, these are injuries that will generally be covered if they occur on business property, and may be covered if they occur off the property, assuming the risk to complainant is higher than that experienced by the general public due to his or her employment. An act of God may be considered a neutral risk.
In the case of Adcock v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, where an Illinois appellate court agreed that a worker who twisted his knee while pivoting in a chair at work should be compensated for his injuries, which stemmed from a neutral risk.
According to court records, plaintiff had a pre-existing condition of “ill-being” on his right knee. For this reason, the worker – a welder – had completed his work-tasks mostly sitting down, and had done so for three years prior to this incident. His employer provided a chair that was equipped with wheels, and plaintiff sat on the chair and welded lock systems. He had a quota he was required to meet each day.
On the afternoon in question, plaintiff was welding and used his left knee to turn the stool in an attempt to turn right. He wasn’t pushing the stool, but instead rotated his left knee inward. In so doing, he heard his left knee pop. He felt immediate pain and burning and reported it to his supervisor. However, he iced it, kept working for the next three days and then had three days off. When his knee didn’t get better, he sought medical treatment.
Initially, he was diagnosed with a left knee sprain, caused by his turn. He was allowed to return to light duty restrictions. However, the condition worsened and physician sought an MRI, which revealed a vertical tear of the medial meniscus. He was referred to an orthopedic surgeon, who reached the same conclusion and recommended surgery.
Worker filed for workers’ compensation benefits, and was asked to undergo an independent medical exam by a doctor of employer’s choice. Unsurprisingly, that physician opined the injuries suffered by plaintiff were not caused by his actions at work. He watched a video of a person conducting work similar to plaintiff, but admitted he didn’t know the speed at which plaintiff worked (plaintiff said he worked faster) and didn’t know the condition of the floor (plaintiff said the concrete was cracked, uneven and strewn with metal bits).
Plaintiff underwent surgery and was later released to work again.
The commission ruled that the act of turning in a chair constituted an act of everyday life that wasn’t compensable under state workers’ compensation statutes. The commission found it to be a neutral risk, and because worker would have been at no greater risk simply because he was at work, denied benefits.
However, the appeals court reversed. The court ruled worker’s job did require him to work seated (due to his earlier injury) and because of the time pressures of the job, he was required to twist bend more than most – which put him at greater risk than the general public of injury.
Thus, his injury was compensable.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Adcock v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, Aug. 14, 2015, Appellate Court of Illinois, Second D rict
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