Fall Down Wet, Snowy Stairs Arose out of, in Course of Teacher's Employment

22 Mar, 2023 Frank Ferreri

                               Chicago, IL (WorkersCompensation.com) -- Wet, snowy stairs aren't a recipe for workplace safety, but was it slippery steps or passing out that caused a teacher's injury? In Chicago Bd. of Educ. v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation, No. 1-22-0341WC (Ill. App. Ct. 03/17/23), the court explained that a commission decision reached its answer on that question and didn't make a decision that was against the manifest weight of the evidence along the way. An elementary school teacher for an Illinois school district fell down a flight of stairs at school and experienced injuries to her knees, lower back, head, left elbow, and right pointer finger. According to the teacher, she traversed the stairs eight times per day, three days a week, and two to six times per day, two days of the week. She also reported that she was required to traverse a flight of stairs two times a day to clock in and out of work. Regarding the events surround the teacher’s fall, she reported the following: There was “a lot” of snow and ice that day. Someone entered the building and went up the stairs with snow on their shoes. - The stairs were wet - The stairs were slanted and lacked metal or treading material - After the teacher fell down 22 stairs and regained consciousness, she noticed that her coat was wet. - The discharge notes from the hospital where the teacher was treated stated that the teacher experienced a “syncopal episode,” in other words, she fainted. The teacher denied the accuracy of the notes and reported that she did not pass out or feel lightheaded at the time of her fall. In her testimony, the teacher testified that she didn’t know what a syncopal episode was and denied receiving treatment for such an episode. According to a coworker, the stairs were wet from snow and ice on the day in question and also needed to be repaired. This coworker reported that she didn’t believe the teacher passed out but also testified that she couldn’t “tell you if she did or she didn’t.” An arbitrator found that the teacher failed to prove she sustained accidental injuries that arose out of an in the course of her employment and denied her benefits. Based on this conclusion, the arbitrator awarded the district $312,386.15 in indemnity benefits and $14,556.90 in paid medical bills. The teacher filed a petition for review with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, which found that the teacher proved she sustained an accident that arose out of and in the course of her employment. The district sought review in court, and the court upheld the commission’s decision, prompting the district to appeal to the next level of court. The appeals court explained that a decision of the commission “will not be disturbed on review unless it is against the manifest weight of the evidence,” which occurs only if an opposite conclusion is “clearly apparent.” In this case, the court found the commission’s decision was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. “The record reflects that claimant consistently testified that she slipped and fell on wet stairs,” the court wrote, emphasizing that that they were wet as the result of tracked-in snow and ice on people’s shoes. Additionally, the court highlighted that it was “undisputed that in order to receive compensation, [the district] required [the worker] to traverse a flight of stairs at least two times a day to clock in and out of work, and it was immediately following this employer-required task that [the worker] fell down the stairs.” As a result, the appeals court upheld the decision of the lower court and the commission in the teacher’s favor.

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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

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