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An Unfortunate Case with a Refreshingly Fair and Just Outcome

| Apr 12, 2021 | Firm News |

In an article regarding a case with a rather grim set of facts, but also with a positive outcome for the person seeking workers’ compensation benefits, a claimant was successfully able to obtain benefits for psychological trauma suffered while at work. See Claimant secures benefits for psychiatric injury after being shot during break. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Law Bulletin, Volume 29, Issue 3, March 26, 2021, p.3.[1]  The case discussed in the article, Martin v. Illinois, State of/Dept. of Security, 29 ILWCLB 24 (Ill. W.C. Comm. 2021), dealt with a claimant who was employed by the Illinois Department of Employment Security, processing unemployment benefit claims at one of the Department’s offices in Chicago, that also happened to be in a rather bad, crime-ridden neighborhood.  When taking breaks, the employees at that office were required to leave and re-enter the building through a certain exit, including the claimant.[2]  While working in the building, and while on break outside, the claimant would occasionally hear gunshots, and would see people fighting outside of the office, including some that were known members of street gangs.  To further add to the tense and anxious atmosphere, some of the aforesaid unruly individuals with gang affiliations were either the claimant’s existing unemployment benefit clients, or even worse, were people for whom the claimant had rejected benefit applications, or otherwise turned down for benefits.[3] While taking a break on a particular workday, the claimant overheard someone outside say something seemingly hostile to him specifically, after which the claimant was shot by the assailant.  Fortunately for the claimant, the bullet only grazed his head, but the claimant was still psychologically traumatized by the event.[4]  At arbitration, the claimant was awarded benefits, since his work accident (the shooting) was determined to have arisen out of and in the course of his employment, due to the fact that the claimant was shot while on break at work, near an office exit that he and his coworkers were required to use, with the designated break area just outside of the office being considered an extension of the work area.  Moreover, the neighborhood where the claimant worked was unsafe, and furthermore, the fact that several of the dangerous people the claimant encountered outside the office while on break, were those that had applied for benefits with the claimant, some of whom had hostile feelings for the claimant, which in turn meant that he faced a greater risk of harm on the job than that faced by the public at large.[5]  Overall, the shooting incident was thus deemed to not be a stray event, but instead directly connected to the claimant’s employment.  For this reason, on review, the Commission basically affirmed the arbitrator’s award of benefits, merely changing the claimant’s disability benefit rate and other minor aspects of his award.[6]

While this case involves a unique set of facts, it also appears to be part of the general trend of both arbitrators and the Commission to increasingly recognize psychological injuries to be compensable under the Worker’s Compensation Act, which is a very positive step in the right direction, in terms of broadening the definition of what constitutes an injury under the Act.

[1]See Claimant secures benefits for psychiatric injury after being shot during break. Illinois Worker’s Compensation Law Bulletin (also cited as ILWCLB), Volume 29, Issue 3, March 26, 2021, p.3.

[1]See Id.
[1]See Id.
[1]See Id.
[1]See Id.
[1]See Id.

Attorney Matthew Ludwinski