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Recent Appellate Court Decisions
In Young v. IWCC, 4-13-0392WC(4th Dist. 2014), the petitioner reached into a deep box to pick up a part resulting in a left arm injury. The appellate court held the IWCC’s denial of benefits was against the manifest weight of the evidence and found the claim compensable.
In Young, the petitioner was a parts inspector. On the date of accident, the petitioner reached into a box that was 36” deep to pick up a spring clip. The petitioner testified that when he reached into the box to pick up the spring clip he felt a snap or pop in his left shoulder. The employer’s accident report stated the petitioner overextended the reaching limits of his left should by reaching into a deep box.
The petitioner gave his treating physician a history that he reached into a box and stretched his left shoulder resulting in a pop in his left shoulder. An MRI was taken which showed a small tear in the supraspinatus.
At the request of the employer, the petitioner was examined by Dr. Kohlmann. Dr. Kohlmann recommended surgery for the left shoulder along with the petitioner’s treating physicians. The petitioner would need an acromioplasty and a rotator cuff repair. Dr. Kohlmann stated the work injury aggravated his pre-existing condition. The petitioner underwent left shoulder surgery and was eventually returned to work without restrictions.
The arbitrator ruled the petitioner did not suffer a compensable accident and held that the act of reaching for an item does not constitute an increased risk of injury peculiar to the petitioner’s employment. Reaching is a normal daily activity. The petitioner’s job duties were not repetitive.
This decision was affirmed by the IWCC. The circuit court confirmed the IWCC’s decision.
The Workers’ Compensation Commission Division of the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that the IWCC’s denial of benefits was against the manifest weight of the evidence. The appellate court discussed the three categories of risk to which an employee may be exposed. They are risks distinctly associated with employment, personal risks, and neutral risks. Neutral risks have no particular employment or personal characteristics.
The appellate court determined that this petitioner’s injury rose out of a risk related to his employment. The injury is compensable. The petitioner was injured while performing his job duties. He had to bend over into the box and reach down deep into the box to retrieve the last spring clip. The box was too narrow to fit both of his arms or shoulders into the box. He was performing an activity that the employer might reasonably expect him perform.
The IWCC denied benefits under the Act because they reasoned the mere act of reaching down for an item did not increase the petitioner’s risk of injury beyond what he would experience as a normal activity of daily living. The IWCC had determined the petitioner was not exposed to a risk to a greater degree than the general public.
The appellate court determined that the petitioner was injured due to an employment risk. He was reaching into a deep narrow box. The appellate court reasoned that the petitioner was performing an act that was incidental to the fulfilment of his job related duties. In this case the petitioner reached further than he typically would have when reaching into the box to retrieve the last spring clip for inspection. The petitioner’s action in reaching and stretching his arm into a deep narrow box to retrieve a part for inspection is distinctly associated with his employment. The appellate court found the accident compensable and the case was remanded back to the IWCC.
Editor’s Note: The appellate court found this accident compensable because the activity was distinctly associated with the petitioner’s employment. The court’s analysis fails to discuss increased risk as a basis for compensability. The court simply finds this activity compensable because it was associated with his employment. Virtually any activity could be associated with a petitioner’s employment. An activity that is distinctly associated with employment is an "in the course of" concept and not an "arising out of" concept. Past decisions have discussed the "arising out of" test as being met when a petitioner has proved an increased risk peculiar to the employment activity. In this case the appellate court never discusses how reaching one time into a deep narrow box increases the employee’s risk of injury beyond that to which the general public is exposed in the course of daily activities. The appellate court finds the activity of reaching into a deep box so inherently dangerous that no further analysis is necessary. When confronted with the IWCC’s ruling that the petitioner was not exposed to a risk to greater degree than the general public the appellate court ignores the increased risk issue. The appellate court simply comments that reaching into a deep narrow box is an employment related risk. The appellate court somehow feels that a showing of an increased risk is not necessary. This is a bad decision for employers. Under this decision's analysis, claims can be compensable because the petitioner was doing something for his employer, regardless of any increased risk. The petitioner would only have to show that the alleged risk was employment related. This case is only a few days old and may be appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.