An Illinois police department employee who fell down a set of stairs should receive workers compensation benefits for his accident because his job required him to use the stairs more often than the general public, an Illinois appellate court has ruled.
John Simons worked as a community service officer for the village of Villa Park, Ill., court records show. He handled ordinance complaints, theft reports, parking enforcement, police office backup and other duties.
Mr. Simons was on duty at the Villa Park police station in April 2007 when his knee “gave out” while walking down a set of stairs in the police station, records show. He fell down about seven stairs, injuring his right knee and lower back.
Mr. Simons testified that he was required to walk up and down a back stairway at the police station several times a day for various work-related reasons, including changing from his civilian clothes to his uniform and going to briefing meetings, records show. He also testified that he suffered a prior right knee injury at his vacation home in January 2007 and was scheduled to undergo knee surgery for that injury in May 2007.
An Illinois workers comp arbitrator found that Mr. Simons did not suffer a risk “greater than those faced outside the workplace” when he fell down the stairs at the police station, records show. However, the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission awarded benefits to Mr. Simons, finding that Mr. Simons' use of the police department stairs fell within Illinois' “personal comfort doctrine” and that his fall was therefore work-related.
The commission found that Mr. Simons' right knee injury and related surgery were caused by the accident at his vacation home, but it ordered Villa Park to pay permanent partial disability benefits of $456.43 a week for 25 weeks based on Mr. Simons' back injury, records show. Villa Park appealed.
'Continually forced' to use stairway
The benefit award was unanimously upheld on Tuesday by a five-judge panel of the 2nd District Illinois Appellate Court. In its ruling, the appellate court found that Mr. Simons' fall arose out of his employment because he was “continually forced” to use the police station stairway for work at least six times daily — even after he had informed supervisors of his prior knee injury.
“These facts are more than sufficient to support both the conclusion that the claimant's employment placed him in a position of greater risk of falling, satisfying the exception to the general rule of noncompensability for injuries resulting from a personal risk, and that the frequency with which the claimant was required to traverse the stairs constituted an increased risk on a quantitative basis from that to which the general public is exposed,” the ruling reads.