Farm Laborer Wins Benefits For Injuries Sustained By Lightning Strike

Case name: Balderas v. Joe Colling & Sons, 12 ILWCLB 2 (Ill.Ind.Comm.2004).

Ruling: The Commission awarded benefits to a laborer who was struck by lightning at his employer’s sod farm. The laborer’s act of walking across open unprotected fields in an attempt to seek shelter from a storm exposed him to an increased likelihood of injury due to a lightning strike.

What it means: Laborers who work outside in flat, unprotected fields are exposed to a greater risk of being struck by lightning. Therefore, any injuries sustained by these laborers in lightning-based accidents arise out of their employment.

Summary: The claimant, a laborer at the defendant’s sod farm, was operating a tractor when a storm arose. The terrain of the sod farm consisted of flat ground without storm shelters, except for a main group of buildings. The employer had an oral work rule which required all employees to seek shelter when a storm occurs. The claimant attempted to drive his tractor to the shelter but it became stuck in mud. He proceeded to walk to the shelter. During his walk, he was struck by lightning. The arbitrator awarded benefits, reasoning that claimant was exposed to an increased risk of being struck by lightning, as he was required to walk from his work station to the shelter and the terrain was flat. The arbitrator also pointed out that he public was not permitted on the sod farm. Only employees of the farm were exposed to a condition that increased the likelihood of injury due to a lightning strike. In affirming, the Commission explained that lightning-based accidents arise out of the employment where, as here, the employment exposes the worker to a greater risk of such injuries.

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