Knee ‘Pop’ While Looking for Carrots Arises from Sous-chef’s Employment

Frank Ferreri

Springfield, IL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Standing up from a kneeling position might not have employment characteristics in some jobs, but it did for a sous-chef searching for missing veggies in a walk-in cooler.

In McAllister v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, No. 124848 (Ill. 09/24/20), Illinois’ top court determined that kneeling down to look for a pan of carrots was something a restaurant might reasonably expect a sous-chef to do in carrying out his assigned job duties, and so when his knee “popped” in the process, he was entitled to benefits.

Employment Characteristics

While attempting to locate the carrots, the sous-chef kneeled on both knees to see whether the pan was under the cooler’s bottom shelves. Not finding the carrots, the sous-chef stood up and, while doing so, experienced the injury.

The sous-chef had previously experienced a workplace injury on the same knee. Following the carrot-hunting injury, the sous-chef underwent surgery for which he paid out-of-pocket. In recovering from surgery, the sous-chef was prescribed physical therapy, but he only went to half of the sessions because he was paying out of pocket.

On the sous-chef’s claim for benefits, an arbitrator awarded temporary total disability benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, and medical expenses. The arbitrator also decided that the restaurant’s refusal to pay TTD benefits and medical expenses was retaliatory.

In response, the restaurant appealed to Illinois’ Workers’ Compensation Commission, which found that the sous-chef’s injury didn’t arise out of his employment but resulted from the “neutral risk of standing up from a kneeling position,” which didn’t have employment characteristics.

The sous-chef then appealed to court, which upheld the WCC’s decision. In turn, the sous-chef appealed to an appellate court, which also agreed with the WCC and prompted the sous-chef to seek review in the state’s supreme court.

Arising Out Of

As in other states, Illinois requires that injuries arise out of and occur in the course of a worker’s employment for an award of workers’ compensation benefits. The court explained that, to determine whether the sous-chef was entitled to benefits, it would have to consider whether his injuries arose out of a risk “distinctly associated with” the sous-chef’s employment.

According to the court, a risk is distinctly associated with a worker’s employment if the worker was performing any of the following:

  1. Acts he was instructed to perform by the employer.
  2. Acts he had a legal duty to perform.
  3. Or acts that he might reasonably be expected to perform to complete his assigned duties.

The court found that the carrot-seeking task was an act that the sous-chef would be expected to perform to carry out his assigned duties.

“Because one of the [sous-chef’s] job duties was to arrange the walk-in cooler, once he learned that a fellow chef had misplaced a pan of carrots in the walk-in cooler, it would be reasonable for [the sous-chef’s] employer to expect [him] to go into the walk-in cooler to assist the coworker look for the pan of carrots because he would be most familiar with where food would be located in the cooler,” the court wrote.

Because the sous-chef’s kneeling and attempting to stand were “incident to and causally connected to” his job duties, the court concluded that the knee injury arose out of the sous-chef’s employment. As a result, the court reversed the decisions in the restaurant’s favor and upheld the arbitrator’s decision.

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