Illinois high court rules chef’s knee injury compensable

The Supreme Court of Illinois on Thursday ruled a chef’s knee injury, suffered as he knelt to look for a tray of carrots, was compensable, reversing several earlier court decisions that in part found the injury to not be work-related.

In 2014, sous chef Kevin McAllister was working at Chicago’s North Pond restaurant setting up for his shift when another cook asked him to retrieve a pan of carrots in the walk-in cooler. He went into the cooler and kneeled down to locate the pan. As he attempted to stand back up he felt his right knee “pop” and could not straighten the leg, prompting his general manager to take him to the hospital emergency room, according to the events chronicled in Kevin McAllister v. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission et al., filed in Springfield.

The injury resulted in surgery, which Mr. McAllister paid for himself, according to documents. Six weeks later he returned to full-time work without restrictions. He later testified that the job typically required him to be on his feet for nine to 15 hours a day, which caused his right leg to feel sore and required him to take ibuprofen or aspirin for pain several times a week, according to documents.

Mr. McAllister sought workers compensation benefits, and an arbitrator awarded him disability benefits and medical costs, finding the task that caused his injury was work-related. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission reversed the decision, finding that the injury did not “arise out of” Mr. McAllister’s employment because the task “was subjected to a neutral risk which had no particular employment or personal characteristics,” according to documents.

On further appeals, a circuit court and a state appeals court agreed with the “neutral risk” assessment.

The state’s highest court reversed, writing that Mr. McAllister’s knee injury “was employment related because it was caused by kneeling and standing while assisting a coworker’s search for carrots in a walk-in cooler — acts that were incident to and causally connected to claimant’s job duties as an arranger of the walk-in cooler.”

The Supreme Court also held “the Commission’s finding — that claimant’s act of kneeling and standing searching for a misplaced pan of carrots was unrelated to his employment — is against the manifest weight of the evidence in the record.”

This article was first published in Business Insurance.

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