An Illinois auto worker recently succeeded in his effort to get his award of workers’ compensation benefits reinstated. Even though the Ford Motor Company worker injured himself while bending over, which can often be considered by the law a “neutral risk” that does not allow for an award of benefits, he was successful because his evidence was able to persuade the Illinois Appellate Court that his injury actually qualified as “a risk distinctly associated with” his employment, which the law recognizes as compensable.
The claimant in the case was an assembly line worker for Ford in a job that involved the installation of rear suspensions on vehicles. His duties required him to engage in multiple and repeated acts of twisting, turning, and reaching behind him. Whenever bolts fell, the job required the employee to run, reach down, and pick up the bolt before a machine ran over it and jammed, which would cause the assembly line to shut down.
One day in May 2009, the employee’s back began bothering him after he bent over to pick up a bolt. On the next day, he woke up in excruciating pain. Tests revealed that he had a herniated disc in his lumbar spine. The employee underwent a microdiscectomy, but this did not completely alleviate his pain.
The employee filed a workers’ compensation claim related to his injuries. The key issue in this employee’s case was whether or not the man’s injuries were results of his activities on the job. An arbitrator looked at all of the proof, including doctors’ opinions, co-workers’ testimony, and video evidence, and concluded that the worker was entitled to temporary total disability and permanent partial disability benefits.
The Workers’ Compensation Commission reversed that decision and denied the claim for benefits. The employee eventually took his case to the Appellate Court, where he achieved success when that court reinstated the arbitrator’s decision. The commission had decided that the employee hurt himself picking up a bolt, and that was a non-compensable neutral risk.
Stray bullets, dog bites, lunatic attacks, lighting strikes, bombings… and hurricanes
Any successful claim for benefits must involve proving that the injury and harm suffered was something that arose “out of and in the course of his employment.” One of the rules that goes with proving this and winning your case says that, if the activity that led to your injury posed no greater risk to you in the performance of your job than the activity would pose to a member of the general public, you cannot win. Examples of this that the court listed included “stray bullets, dog bites, lunatic attacks, lighting strikes, bombings, hurricanes, and falls while traversing stairs, public sidewalks, and commercial driveways.”
On the other hand, if the activity that caused the injury was “a risk distinctly associated with” a worker’s employment, the employee can win. That was the case in this auto worker’s case. While bending over is an activity in which the general public engages, this worker’s bending activities were different. The worker, whenever a bolt fell onto the ground, was required to run to the bolt, bend over, and hurriedly pick it up before the fallen item caused a jam and shut down the assembly line. In a circumstance like that, the auto worker’s back injury was similar to a previous case involving a parts inspector. That worker’s shoulder injury occurred when he reached into a deep, narrow box to retrieve a part. Even though each underlying act (reaching in the inspector’s case, bending down in the auto worker’s case) was one performed by the general public on a daily basis, the proof in each case established that “the risk to which the claimant was exposed was necessary to the performance of his job duties at the time of his injury,” so that made him entitled to an award of benefits.
If you’ve been injured on the job, you need aggressive and knowledgeable counsel fighting for your interests. The experienced Chicago workplace injury attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca have been helping injured workers for many years to pursue the compensation they deserve. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.
More Blog Posts:
Illinois Appellate Court Upholds IWCC’s Determination that Exceeded AMA Impairment Rating, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, April 19, 2017
Chicago Area Teacher Wins Case for Worker’s Compensation Benefits After Injury in Afterschool Basketball Game, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, March 16, 2017