We’ve written before about the fact that not every on-the-job injury is considered a work injury for purposes of workers’ compensation. What we mean by that is that you can get hurt at work, but if your job didn’t put you at an increased risk for that injury, then it’s just a regular injury. It’s one of those nuances in the law that can make sense in theory but get really tricky when trying to apply it to your specific situation.
A common example is a heart attack. If you suffer a heart attack while sitting at your desk, the main question will be whether your job put you at an increased risk for that. Anyone can be at risk for a heart attack. The same is true of tripping on your shoe and falling down, standing, sitting, walking, etc. You have to look at whether you were at a greater risk than the risk that the general public faces for the same injury. It’s less of an issue if you were doing something that the general public doesn’t do, like walking on scaffolding or handling dangerous machinery.
We heard about a recent case in which a young worker heard her knee pop when she squatted down to plug something into an outlet. It was a meniscus tear, and the question is whether it’s a work injury that will entitle her to benefits. She was performing her job duties when it happened, which is part of the consideration. But the other consideration is whether the injury arose out of her employment, and that’s where the question of risk comes in.
We bring up this situation to point out how case-by-case this rule can be and how much it comes down to the details. In the case of this young worker with the knee injury, it probably isn’t considered a work injury. However, there are seemingly similar cases that go the other way based on slightly different facts. In one such case, a worker got hurt reaching into a box to take something out of the bottom. Again, he was doing his job duties at the time, but the question was whether he was at greater risk considering reaching is something the general public does all the time. The court pointed out the fact that the box was deep and narrow and that the employee had to stretch and reach into the bottom in order to do his job. The court concluded that it was a work injury.
So unless the woman with the knee injury can prove that she was required to do a lot of squatting or squatting in an unusual way in order to do her job, she’s likely out of luck. In general, workers’ compensation is a great resource for employees who are hurt doing their jobs. Don’t let the details – like the ones above – dissuade you from going after benefits. The law in Illinois entitles you to these if your injury is considered a work injury. You can and should talk to an experienced attorney – someone who focuses on helping injured workers – before making a determination about whether you have a case worth pursuing.