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Can you receive workers’ compensation benefits if you fall down stairs?

To be eligible for workers’ comp benefits in this situation in Illinois, you need to be able to prove that the conditions of your employment created a risk to which the general public is not exposed.

The increased risk needs to be at least one of the following:

  1. Qualitative:  The fall was a result of some defect in the stairs or steps where you fell, such as a broken or damaged area, a missing tread, worn or loose carpeting, or water or some other substance.
  2. Quantitative:  Being exposed to a risk more frequently than the general public, such as having to go up and down steps many times, or having to carry something as part of your job duties.

A recent Illinois case dealt with this issue.  In Rebecca Williams v. County of Coles, Ms. Williams was a county court administrator, and she was directed by a judge and security officer to enter a courthouse at a certain entrance different than the one she normally used.  They were holding the door for her, and she walked toward the entrance in a hurry, so as not to make them wait on her.  While going up the stairs, she tripped and fell, landing on her left side.  She injured her left leg and hip.

She and her attorneys argued that her fall was caused by two factors:  She was hurrying up the steps so that she would not delay the judge, and there was a defect in the stairs.  At the first stage of the case, the Arbitrator awarded her benefits.  On review, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission reversed the Arbitrator’s decision, the Circuit Court confirmed the Commission’s decision, and the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed.  She lost her case.

In the end, her attorneys failed to prove either factor in her argument.  Hurrying up the steps to not delay the judge was not anything beyond her own choice to hurry.  She presented pictures of the stairs which showed they had varying heights, but failed to present evidence that this caused her to fall.  She also was not sure what caused her to fall, stating, “I lost my footing” and, “I tripped on something.”  She testified she thought she tripped on a step, but she was not able to identify the exact step.  Without having more specifics, the court would have to speculate as to the cause of the fall.  (A very important side note: The way minor details in this testimony hurt her case shows why an injured worker should NEVER give a recorded statement, as we discussed in this post: “I Was Injured at Work. What Things Should I NOT Do?“)

Falling down the stairs at work can be a very difficult workers’ comp case.  Ms. Williams lost because her attorneys failed to prove that her fall arose out of and in the course of her employment.  If you fall at work and suffer injuries, it is very important for you to contact an attorney to obtain a free consultation and, at the very least, basic advice.

Appellate Court, Fall at Work, Fall Down Stairs, Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, Slip and Fall