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'But-for' rule gives injured Illinois worker a win

There is a test question in personal injury law that few outside of the profession may be familiar with, but it has proven to be a critical linchpin in determining many legal outcomes. It's called the "but-for" test. Simply put, you pose the question, if situation X had not happened, would situation Y have resulted? If the answer is no, then it can be said that situation X was the actual cause of situation Y.

It's an important distinction and one that recently proved to be a determining factor in a workers' compensation case heard by the Appellate Court of Illinois, Fourth District, which generally covers the central part of the state. Because of the ruling, an injured truck driver is getting a second chance at obtaining injury and disability benefits he claims he is due.

The case dates back to June 2011 when the plaintiff truck driver, who usually drove an automatic transmission truck, developed a blister on his left foot. Both sides stipulated that the injury happened because the man had to drive a manual shift truck for about 10 days while his normal vehicle was being repaired. Constant stepping on the clutch and climbing in and out of the cab caused the blister.

According to the case record, the man lanced the blister with a sterilized needle and treated the wound with an antiseptic rinse. Unfortunately, he developed an infection, leading to the amputation of one of his toes.

An arbitrator determined the driver should receive workers' compensation benefits for his medical expenses and temporary total and permanent partial disability benefits. However, the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission rejected the driver's claim on appeal, stating that he had caused the infection that cost him his toe himself. A Macon County court backed that ruling.

The appeals court reversed those decisions and sent the matter back to the commission for reconsideration. Among the reasons given for the action was the appeals court's finding of a "but-for" relationship between the blister and the infection. If the first hadn't occurred because of the man's work, the second wouldn't have, either, so compensation is called for.

Source: Caselaw.Findlaw.com, "Dunteman v. Illinois Workers Compensation Commission," accessed June 30, 2016

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