The purpose of the Workers’ Compensation Act (Act) is to protect employees against risks and hazards which are particularly characteristics to the specific work they have been employed to do. An injury is compensable under the Act only if it “arises out of” and “in the course of” the employment. The phrase “in the course of” refers to the time, place and circumstances under which the accident occurred. The words “arising out of” refer to the origin or cause of the accident and assume that there is a causal connection between the employment and the injury. An injury “arises out of” the employment if it originates from a risk connected with, or incidental to, her /his job. Both of these elements must be present at the time of the accident or injury to justify compensation.
Jane Brais worked for the Kankakee County Circuit Clerk’s Office as a child support coordinator. On the day of her accident, Brais was returning to her office at the courthouse from a work-related meeting at a nearby administrative building. Brais and other employees normally used the employee’s entrance at the rear of the courthouse. However, the entrance was locked, which meant she had to use the main entrance instead.
As she neared the main entrance stairs, she caught the heel of her shoe in a sidewalk defect and fell; the sidewalk where she fell had huge cracks and was broken up. Brais testified, “You could pretty much see the gravel that they put down underneath the concrete.” She further testified there was a one-half to a one inch difference in the level between the smooth concrete and the crumbled concrete.
Brais filed her claim against Kankakee County, and the arbitrator denied it. According to the arbitrator, Brais’ accident “occurred when she was walking along a public pathway going in to the county courthouse.” He added, “In doing so, she was not subjected to a risk to which the general public is not exposed or that was peculiar to her work.” The arbitrator found that the risk to the claimant which caused her injuries was no greater to her than to the general public.
The Brais case found that the employee’s presence on the sidewalk approaching the steps to the courthouse’s front door was based on the demands of her employment, which had required her to attend a meeting in the administration building two blocks from her office. The court noted that her attendance at the meeting was solely for the benefit and accommodation of her employer.
According to the appellate court, when an employee is injured in an area which is the sole or usual route to the employer’s premises, and there is a special risk or hazard on the route, the hazard becomes part of the employment. The court found that the special hazards or risk encountered as a result of using the sole or usual access route satisfied the “arising out of” requirement in the Act. The appellate court noted that the front entrance to the courthouse “was not only a usual access route for the claimant, it was her sole and only route since the employee entrance was locked.” Because she was required to attend the meeting at the administrative building, Brais’ risk of injury on the defective sidewalk was greater than that of the general public.
The Brais Court said, “this case does not merely involve the risks inherent in walking on a sidewalk which confront all members of the public. This case involves a cracked and defective sidewalk which was a contributing cause of the claimant’s injury. Because the claimant encountered a special hazard or risk as a result of using a sole or usual access route, her injury arose out of her employment.” The court said “Application of the existing case law to the undisputed facts in this case reveals that the only reasonable inference that can be drawn from the evidence is that the claimant’s injuries arose out of her employment.”
The appellate court, in writing its opinion, was careful to state that the hazard becomes part of the employment only when an employee is injured in an area which is “the sole or usual route to the employer’s premises, and there is a special risk or hazard on the route.”