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Workers Compensation and the First Aggressor Defense


The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act allows an employee to receive compensation for sustaining any “accidental injuries arising out of and in the course of the employment.” 820 ILCS § 305/1(d). Accidental injuries can occur in a variety of ways: a construction worker can fall off of a roof while replacing shingles; a nurse can slip on the hospital floor while attending to patients; a factory worker can tear a muscle while lifting heavy objects. Some may be surprised to hear that Illinois courts have routinely held that an employee injured in a fight with a co-worker can also receive Workers’ Compensation benefits. Of course, the fight must be related to the employment. Workers’ Compensation will not cover fights arising from purely personal reasons.

Unfortunately, workplace fights are inevitable since many people with different personalities and experiences are interacting with each other. Illinois Workers’ Compensation law has recognized this reality and included benefits for employees injured in a workplace fight. However, employers will try to avoid paying Workers’ Compensation benefits if possible. Employers may attempt to use the “first aggressor defense” to defend against a Workers’ Compensation claim brought by employees injured in fights with their co-workers. The first aggressor defense provides that an employee who was the first aggressor in a fight shall not receive Workers’ Compensation benefits for any sustained injuries.

In determining if an employee was the first aggressor, Illinois courts consider the entire context of the situation. The person who initiated the first physical contact is an important consideration, but it is not decisive. For example, in Ford Motor Co. v. Industrial Commission, 78 Ill. 2d 260 (1980), the petitioner/employee worked as a sheet-metal worker. One of his co-workers verbally harassed him at work on a daily basis. One day, a fight erupted between the two after the co-worker ran up in the petitioner/employee’s face and the petitioner/employee shoved him away. The petitioner/employee suffered a skull fracture and filed a Workers’ Compensation. His employer attempted to avoid compensating the petitioner/employee by arguing that he was the first aggressor. After considering the entire context of the fight, the Supreme Court of Illinois held that the petitioner/employee was not the first aggressor because his shove was a reaction to the daily abuse from his co-worker. The petitioner/employee was able to receive Workers’ Compensation benefits for the skull fracture.

Accidental workplace injuries are an unfortunate reality for many Illinois employees. Even worse, they often occur suddenly and for a seemingly infinite amount of reasons. Fights among co-workers are also an unfortunate reality for some Illinois employees. Luckily, Illinois Workers’ Compensation law has evolved over time to include many of the unique reasons an employee may become injured on the job, including workplace fights. Any employee who is the victim in a workplace fight must not be discouraged from making a Workers’ Compensation claim for any sustained injuries. The attorneys at the Sherwood Law Group have extensive experience in representing employees in Workers’ Compensation disputes, and have represented employees who suffered injuries in a workplace fight. Contact Sherwood Law Group today for a free consultation and the attorneys will immediately begin to evaluate how to secure the Workers’ Compensation award that you deserve and need.
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