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Did you know that not every injury that occurs at work is covered by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act? Your injury has to arise out of your job duties and happen during the course of your job duties. So even if something crazy happens like getting shot while working, you aren’t automatically covered. We have to look at what happened that caused you to get shot and what you were doing at the time.
A good example of the legal analysis we do is shown by a recent case against the state of Illinois. A worker was processing unemployment claims out of the Chicago office. He was returning from a break when he got shot at the entrance to the building. During his testimony, he said they were required to leave the building when on break and go outside. He said it was his perception that it’s a really dangerous neighborhood and that he’d seen fights, gang members, and occasionally heard gunshots. Right before getting shot he heard someone yell, “Hey unemployment.”
While he was fortunate that the gin shot only grazed his head, he did suffer a psychiatric injury and had to be transferred to another job location.
This worker won his case. It arose out of his employment duties based on the shooter yelling, “Hey unemployment.” That showed it wasn’t a random act, but instead happened due to his job duties. And even though he was on break outside the building, his testimony showed that he was in the course of his job duties. It was a sanctioned break near an entrance he was required to use. That made this area an extension of his workplace.
A key factor though was the unrebutted testimony that it was a dangerous neighborhood. That increased the credibility of his being shot being related to his job duties and that his work increased his risk of being shot. There is Illinois case law that says if you work in a dangerous neighborhood and are assaulted on the clock, that alone is enough to win your case. That’s because you aren’t just someone who is in the wrong place at the wrong time, but in an area with an increased likelihood of an attack.
Two important points from this case:
1. The lawyer on this case did a great job, especially when they first interviewed this client. It was important to know about the neighborhood, what happened right before they were shot, and most importantly, that they had to take a break outside of the office. Many lawyers would not look that far and assume that if he was outside the building it’s not a case.
2. The State of Illinois will fight cases that clearly should not be fought and if you want to get benefits from them you often have to go to trial. A close look at the facts in this case, especially when you consider the State wasn’t arguing the facts, shows that this claim never should have been denied. I wish the worker’s attorney would have filed for penalties and fees because, like many other cases against the State, this one was unreasonably denied.