A recent workers’ compensation appeals court ruling raises questions of how much responsibility employees have after they are injured at work.

The case goes back to 2011 when Steven Dunteman, a truck driver, got a blister on his foot from hitting the clutch on a work truck. He lanced the blister, later got an infection and lost a toe because of his diabetes.

Illinois’ Workers’ Compensation Commission said Dunteman shouldn’t get workers’ compensation because he caused his infection. A Macon County court agreed. But an appeals court recently reversed the ruling.

University of Illinois law professor Michael LeRoy said it’s the latest case to try and whittle down causation.
“This is part of a trend,” LeRoy said. “There are other states out there where they’re reining in workers’ comp.”

LeRoy said causation is the central question for courts and policymakers.

He said it’s important to settle on a standard for how much employers will pay for an injury that may not be entirely work-related.

Mark Denzler, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, said causation is crucial for businesses in Illinois.

“The employer, because of their actions or the workplace, only caused say 1 percent of the injury. And yet they’re on the hook for 5 percent of the cost,” Denzler said.

LeRoy said it’s unusual but not unheard of for an appellate court to overturn both a lower court and the state’s workers’ compensation commission.

Denzler said appellate courts usually act like referees at a football game, and let the “call on the field” stand. The appellate court ordered Dunteman’s case back to the commission for a new hearing.


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