Springfield, IL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Is it odd if a 57-year-old man who weighs 284 pounds and who has had a prior knee surgery opts for going down two flights of stairs rather than waiting for the elevator?
Possibly, and an Illinois court recently had to decide if it was odd enough to question whether a worker really experienced an on-the-job injury.
A dispatcher for a sheriff’s department fell down a flight of stairs when he went to retrieve a lunch bag he left in his car while working. No one saw the dispatcher fall because he was in the stairwell by himself, but he experienced injuries to his back, shoulders, hips, neck, right leg, and body as a whole.
Although the dispatcher could have taken the elevator, he reported that he took the stairs because the elevator light did not come on after he hit the button and he didn’t hear the elevator moving. However, he also noted that he “did not wait very long” for the elevator.
After falling, the dispatcher was taken to the hospital by ambulance.
According to the dispatcher, the stairwell had poor lighting with just a single light fixture that had one working light bulb. On the other hand, a coworker reported that, while some of the lights were out in the stairwell, the lighting was “normal.” This coworker detailed that she used the elevator on the day at issue.
At an arbitration hearing, the department argued that the dispatcher’s accident was fabricated in response to disciplinary action he had received earlier that day. Prior to the day at issue, “multiple and repeated issues” had arisen with his job performance. In particular, the dispatcher had once “lost track” of an officer and made improper dispatches that resulting in “coaching” as well as a suspension.
Additionally, the dispatcher once reported that a data system was not accessible when it was functional and other employees were using it.
The arbitrator found that the dispatcher experienced an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of his employment. Additionally, the arbitrator did not find it suspicious that the dispatcher decided to take the stairs to retrieve his lunch and rejected the department’s charge that he fabricated the accident.
On the department’s request for a review, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission reversed the arbitrator’s decision, relying, in part, on a doctor’s report indicating that the dispatcher had no visible bruising or abnormality during an office visit following the alleged fall. Additionally, a doctor who conducted an MRI of the dispatcher opined that the mechanics of the dispatcher’s injury were not credible.
The dispatcher appealed to court. The court sided with the dispatcher, prompting the department to appeal to the next level in court.
Under Illinois law, as elsewhere, an employee’s injury must both arise out of and in the course of his employment to be compensable.
Did the dispatcher experience a workplace injury?
A. Yes. The dispatcher was on the job when he experienced his injury.
B. No. The medical evidence indicated that the alleged fall wasn’t what caused the dispatcher’s injury.
If you chose B, you agreed with the court in Murray v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, No. 5-21-0129WC (Ill. App. Ct. 01/24/22), which agreed with the commission that the medical records and the dispatcher’s story didn’t match up.
According to the court, it was “extremely unlikely” that the dispatcher could have fallen backwards down a flight of stairs without any visible signs of trauma documented in his medical records.
Although one doctor opined in the dispatcher’s favor, the court pointed out that this doctor’s opinion was based on the dispatcher’s description of the alleged fall. The court also pointed out that it was “highly coincidental” that the dispatcher, given his weight, age, and prior knee surgery would choose to walk down two flights of stairs in an allegedly dark stairwell.
The court also highlighted that the alleged accident occurred on the same day the dispatcher was subject to disciplinary action, and found the commission’s inference that he fabricated the accident “reasonable.”
As a result, the court reinstated the commission’s decision.
This feature does not provide legal advice.