This was a southern Illinois work comp case we didn’t handle, but read about. To me it’s interesting.
A supervisor at a prison hurt his shoulder and hand when he fell forward while going up the stairs at the start of his work day. He was carrying a drink in one hand and his keys in the other. While going through his keys to find the one to his office, he caught his toe on a step and fell forward.
He was carrying a drink because there was no water fountain on his floor and messing with his keys because his door was kept locked for security reasons. Those facts helped win his case, but what was interesting about this one is the third reason he won.
Generally speaking, if you fall on stairs and there’s not a problem with them (like they were wet) you will lose the case. You have to show something about the job caused you to be at an increased risk of injury. On the other hand, if the job creates a risk that the general public isn’t exposed to, you can still win.
In this case, the lawyer for the worker screwed up, in my opinion. And that’s what makes it interesting. Most Arbitrators will only rely on the evidence presented. In this case, there was no evidence about whether or not the public could use these stairs. That could have doomed the case and was an error by the lawyer not to ask that questions. This Arbitrator, rightly as far as I’m concerned, concluded that since the stairs were in a prison if could be inferred they were not available for the public to use.
These three factors allowed the Arbitrator to rule that the injury arose out of the employment and that this worker was at an increased risk for an accident.
Essentially it seems that the Arbitrator saved the attorney from a legal malpractice lawsuit. He did this by using common sense which is what we should want all Judges to do whether it helps or hurts our case. If it’s all about getting the ruling right they should act this way.
Falls on stairs at work can be tricky and are often fought by insurance companies. You really need an attorney who knows the right questions to ask and can show a track record of winning these cases. You certainly can’t expect an Arbitrator to bail out your lawyer when they don’t ask the right questions. This worker got lucky and that’s good because it was the right result.