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If you slip and fall at work, can you get workers’ comp benefits?

The short answer: Yes.  The more complete answer: Yes, but it depends on certain key factors.

One very important key is the ability to prove the facts that are claimed by the injured worker.  The best way to explain the Illinois law for slip and fall injuries is to look at the details of an example case.

In the case of Valerie Kement v. State of Illinois – Illinois Veterans Home, Ms. Kement was a certified nursing assistant, or CNA.  While she was getting a resident’s dentures, she turned, intending to go toward the bathroom, and then tripped on that resident’s box of belongings, falling on the floor.  She injured her right ankle.

At the first stage of this case, the Arbitrator ruled in favor of Ms. Kement based on the fact that it was an unexplained fall, with reasoning being that she was performing work duties at the time of the fall.  There was some question as to whether there was actually a box that caused the fall, because Mr. Kement failed to mention the alleged box in her injury report, and also failed to mention it to any of the medical providers, as there was no mention of the box in the medical records.

The case was appealed to the Commission, who reversed the Arbitrator’s decision, and ruled against the injured worker.

Why was the Arbitrator’s decision reversed?

Here is the key:  While an unexplained fall at work is compensable under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, an employee must prove that the fall happened from a risk related to employment, and that the employee was exposed to a risk of injury to a greater degree than the general public.

In this case, Ms. Kement failed to establish that there was a hazard—in her claim, a box—or any other defect in the area which caused her to fall.  She also did not clearly indicate if she was holding the dentures of the patient at the time of the fall, which, while it may seem very minor and lightweight, could have been argued to contribute to her fall to some degree.  In the exact words of the Commission’s decision:  “Petitioner did not even testify that she had retrieved the dentures and was in possession of same at the time of the fall, on the slim chance that holding the item may have somehow increased the risk of injury.”

An unexplained slip and fall at work without any other proof does not establish that an injured employee is automatically entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.  There must be either an increased risk because of the nature of the work, or something wrong with the condition of the floor or the area of the fall, for the injured worker to recover benefits under the law in Illinois.

If you want to read more on this topic, including a winning case for a worker who slipped and fell on ice in his driveway, see our post: “Slip and Fall, Traveling Employee Work Injury Cases.

Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, Slip and Fall