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Work comp benefits awarded to trucker injured by sudden illness

Is an employee injured in an accident caused by a sudden syncopal episode -- i.e., a loss of consciousness caused by insufficient blood flow to the brain -- entitled to workers' compensation benefits?

This was the fascinating issue recently before the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission in the work comp case of Sledd v. Sharkey Transportation.

According to the facts, a truck driver was out on his route when he suddenly began to feel very ill, experiencing both nausea and dizziness. Recognizing his fragile state, the trucker attempted to pull off the road at the next rest stop, but lost consciousness before making it there.

Unfortunately, this resulted in a motor vehicle accident that left the truck driver with serious injuries to his leg, back and neck.

The trucker driver subsequently filed a work comp claim seeking the necessary work comp benefits, but saw his claim denied by the presiding arbitrator. The truck driver then proceeded to appeal the arbitrator's decision to the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, where it was ultimately reversed and benefits were awarded.

The commission held that the truck driver could be classified as a traveling employee, and that Illinois law dictates that a determination as to whether a traveling employee's injuries arose during the course of employment is contingent upon a finding that the conduct of the traveling employee was reasonable and could be foreseen by the employer.

However, this determination did not have to be made, as there was no dispute concerning whether the truck driver's injury arose out of his employment and that he was a traveling employee.

The commission went on to note that under state law, injured workers are eligible for benefits for injuries sustained in accidents stemming from spontaneous or unknown causes if their employment put them at an elevated risk of injury.

Here, the commission found that the truck driver's employment did indeed place him at an elevated injury risk during his sudden illness as it caused him to lose control of the truck. It also noted that he acted reasonable in attempting to get his rig off the road and that his medical history showed no prior evidence of these types of episodes.

If you have questions or would like to learn more about your ability to secure workers' compensation benefits, consider contacting an experienced legal professional.

Source: Risk & Insurance, "Truck driver delivers compensable claim for injuries due to syncopal episode," Oct. 21, 2013

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