5-12-2011; Color us totally and permanently confused; the Illinois Appellate Court, Workers’ Compensation Division denies a fall-down case for lack of evidence of an increased risk

We tell our law students, readers and clients, the only “rule” we can discern about any IL WC fall-down decision is you can never, ever tell the outcome with any predictability. Since the ruling in Chicago Tribune v. Industrial Commission way back in the 1980’s when your editor was a legal novice, things seem to go back and forth and forth and back. Maybe when someone falls at work, they should toss out a coin and call it heads or tails on the way down!

We have no idea how this ruling can align with the very recent and similarly unanimous fall-down ruling of the same august body of justices in Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago v. IWCC, issued just over two months ago on February 22, 2011. If you regularly read these KC&A Updates, the members of the court found that claimant suffered a “street risk.” Following the new theory, the claim was therefore compensable, despite the fact there was no defined defect attributed to the driveway on which she fell. We have been advised the trial record indicates claimant in this earlier decision was asked over and over what caused her to fall and the record indicates she had no answer. We want our readers to understand it is impossible to define or determine the applicability of the new IL WC term “street risk” as it doesn’t appear in the WC Act or Rules Governing Practice. We also note claimant didn’t fall on an actual street, she fell in a driveway.

Now, in Baldwin v. The Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, No. 4-10-0375WC (April 28, 2011), the members of the court considered the claim of a security guard who was assigned to inside guard duty, which consisted of walking throughout and around a building. The guard was injured in two falls.

The first fall occurred while descending a typical metal staircase. Claimant could not say what caused her foot to slip. She did not define any defect in the staircase.

The second claim arose when her leg began cramping and spontaneously gave out, causing her to fall. We are certain our readers are happy that unknown personal condition didn’t rise to the level of being a compensable occurrence.

The unanimous ruling noted claimant did not present any evidence as to cause of her falls. The decision also notes claimant did not prove she was exposed to a risk greater than that faced by the general public. Finally, the Court mentioned the record only disclosed the falls were purely idiopathic or without any defined cause. Based upon all of it, they determined she failed to prove that her injuries arose out of her employment.

When we read the MWRD v. IWCC ruling, we wondered aloud whether every fall-down case might have a concept similar to “street-risk” to render it compensable. For example in Baldwin, the court’s members could have found “metal-staircase-risk” to be a similar concern. Obviously, they didn’t and we will simply have to keep reading and reporting fall-down rulings to see if we can figure out which ones to pay and which ones to deny.