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First contact and aggressor defense not an if/then situation

Under Illinois workers' compensation law, an injured worker can obtain benefits to help pay for medical treatment and time off from work. Is this right to compensation unlimited? The answer is unfortunately, no. Defenses can be raised that would prevent the injured worker from receiving compensation.

The aggressor defense is one of these exceptions. This defense provides that "injuries to the aggressor in a workplace fight are not compensable." What qualifies an individual as being an aggressor? The Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission recently ruled that first contact does not automatically trigger this defense.

What happened in this case? Like many legal situations, the two parties disagreed. Both sides agreed that a workplace altercation had taken place. The fight began when a female worker put a dirty pan in the wrong sink. A male coworker then sprayed her with a hose. Then, the man tried to shove her into the sink and she hit him in the groin.

The young woman's arm was injured in the incident and she sought workers' compensation benefits. An arbitrator awarded the young woman benefits and the case was appealed based on a disagreement over the hit to the groin. The woman claims that the hit was unintentional, and of course, the other side disagreed.

According to the commission, the truth over whether the hit to the groin was intended or not didn't matter in this case. The court found that even if the woman had intentionally hit the man in the groin, making the first physical contact, the other worker had provoked her at a sufficient level to overcome the aggressor defense.

Source: Risk & Insurance, "Fast-food worker wins benefits in scuffle with coworker," Dec. 9, 2013

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