Village of Villa Park v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission 
By: Katie S. Lonze - Associate - Nyhan, Bambrick, Kinzie & Lowry

  

The claimant was a community service officer employed by the Village of Villa Park.  On April 5, 2007, he was walking down a stairwell after a briefing when his right knee “gave out.”  He fell down approximately seven steps, resulting in injuries to his right knee and lower back.  The claimant testified that he was required to walk up and down the stairs multiple times a day due to the nature of his job.  He had previously suffered a right knee injury on January 13, 2007, when he slipped on ice at his vacation home in Wisconsin and later twisted his knee on that date when he fell off a pile of wood. He underwent MRI studies after the knee injury at his vacation home, which revealed complex tears of the anterior horn, posterior horn and body of the lateral meniscus.  At a visit on March 6, 2007, approximately one month before his work accident, his doctor prescribed a right knee surgery which was then scheduled for May 2, 2007. 

After the fall at work down the stairs, repeat knee MRI studies were ordered and the results showed an undersurface tear of the posterior horn of the meniscus which was unchanged from his prior scan.

After a hearing, the arbitrator found that, while the claimant’s fall did not appear to be idiopathic, the act of walking down the stairs alone did not establish a risk greater than that faced outside the work place, and thus the injury did not occur in the course of his employment.  The Commission reversed the Arbitrator and focused on the claimant’s testimony that he used the stairs numerous times per day in order to access the police locker room and for breaks.  The employer appealed the decision of the Commission.

The Appellate Court held that the evidence in the record supported the Commission’s finding that the claimant was “continually forced to use the stairway” to complete his work-related activities, as well as for personal comfort.  Moreover, the Deputy Chief’s testimony that the claimant walked with a limp as a result of the January 2007 injury supported the inference that the Village required the claimant to continuously use the stairs, even knowing that he had an injured knee.  As such, due to the frequency with which the claimant was required to use the stairs, the nature of his employment placed him in a position of increased risk of falling. These facts satisfied the exception to the general rule of non-compensability for injuries that arise from a personal risk and created a risk greater than the risk to which the general public is exposed on a qualitative basis.

 

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