Falling on a public sidewalk isn't a death knell for an Illinois Workers' Compensation Claim.
Historically in Illinois, employees hurt on the job while in an area used by the general public face a pretty good likelihood that their case will get tossed. A number of Illinois Supreme Court decisions, as well as some Appellate Court decisions, have set fort that if an employee faces the same risk as the general public[i.e. falling on a public sidewalk], well then, his injury was NOT related to his job. In Brais v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, the Third Appellate District[Kankakee] recently wrestled with this issue once again.
In Brais, the injured worker Jane R. Brais worked for the County of Kankakee as a Child Support Coordinator. Her office was in the Kankakee County Courthouse. On December 26, 2006 at approximately 11:00 a.m., she was returning to her office from a work meeting at a nearby building. Normally, County employees entered the Courthouse through a private entrance in back. That entrance however was closed at 9:30 a.m. So Brais had to enter the building through the front door[a public entrance]. She was about to enter the building when he heel caught in a crack in the sidewalk. She fell and suffered a serious injury to her left wrist. Ultimately she needed a significant piece of surgery on her injured wrist. Ms. Brais then filed a Workers’ Compensation claim.
At a hearing before the Workers Compensation Commission, the arbitrator ruled that the injuries suffered by Ms. Brais did not arise out of her employment. The basis for that ruling was because Brais had been injured on a public sidewalk. According to the arbitrator’s line of thinking because the general public faced the exact same risks entering the building, the risk was not specific to Brais’ job. The arbitrator tossed the case.
Brais appealed, first to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission – which acts as the first line of appeal in Workers’ Compensation cases. Brais got no relief there – the Commission ruled the arbitrator was right. So Ms. Brais appealed to the Circuit Court of Kankakee County. The Circuit Court also agreed with the arbitrator. So Brais took her case to the Appellate Court.
The Appellate Court decision in a concise and well-written opinion, noted a number of very critical facts. First, Brais was on that cracked sidewalk because of her job. She had to attend a meeting in a nearby building. Additionally, Brais didn’t have any options. Because the employee door was locked, she had to use the front door. The Court found that it didn’t matter that the general public also used those doors. The Court found that “when an employee is injured in an area which is the only route to work, and there is hazard[like a cracked sidewalk] the hazard becomes part of the employment.” The Appellate Court overturned the decision of the Commission as well as the decision of the Circuit Court. It is nice to see employees getting a break now and again in the courts.