Illinois Workers' Compensation Update
Recent Decisions in Illinois Workers' Compensaiton Cases

ILLINOIS WORKERS’ COMPENSATION UPDATE

 

Is an employer’s failure know about the requirements of maintaining workers’ compensation insurance a sufficient defense to prevent penalties from being assessed?

 

No. The Commission assessed a penalty of $893,500.00 ($500.00 per day for 1,787 days) against the employer, Northwest Suburban Driving School, Inc., for its failure to obtain workers’ compensation insurance. The Commission determined that the employer willfully and knowingly violated Section 4(a) of the Act and Section 7100.100 of the Rules during the period January 1, 2003 through March 25, 2011 and May 11, 2012 through May 14, 2012, representing 1,787 days of non-compliance with the Act.

 

In this case, the employer had more than 30 employees throughout these time periods, but failed to maintain workers’ compensation insurance. There were also numerous workplace injuries during these time periods. At trial, the President and Owner of the employer testified that he did not obtain workers’ compensation insurance because he did not know it was necessary. He was further offered workers’ compensation insurance multiples times, but refused. The Commission particularly took note of the employer’s length of time it violated the Act by not maintaining insurance – 1,787 days.

 

State of Illinois, Illinois Workers' Comp. Comm'n, Ins. Compliance Div., Petitioner, 11 IL. INC. 150 (Ill. Indus. Com'n Nov. 24, 2015)

 

 

If the only medical expert rates an employee’s PPD at 0%, can the Petitioner still be awarded PPD benefits?

 

Yes. The appellate court affirmed the Commission’s award of 5% PPD for loss of use of his left hand, despite the only medical expert rating which gave a 0% impairment rating. Based on the on the “totality of factors” to be considered, including (i) level of impairment; (ii) occupation; (iii) age; (iv) future earnings capacity of the employee, and (v) medical evidence of disability, the appellate court determined the employee sustained a 5% loss of use of his left hand.

 

In this case, the employee tripped and fell while taking trash to a dumpster, landing on his left hand and arm. X-rays revealed a left wrist fracture. The employee’s treating physician prepared a written report containing a disability rating based upon American Medical Association guidelines, as required by section 8.1b(a) of the Act, and opined that there was no permanent impairment in the employee’s left extremity as a result of the fracture. He explained in the report that, at the time of the last examination, the employee was doing great functionally, and had full range of motion, no tenderness, and no impairment. The appellate court held that the Act does not specify the weight to be given to the physician’s report and, instead, that no single enumerated factor shall be the sole determinant of disability. Therefore, nothing within the statutory language of section 8.1(b) requires the Commission to automatically adopt the physician’s reported level of impairment merely because the parties submitted only that one report.

 

Cont'l Tire of the Americas, LLC v. Illinois Workers' Comp. Comm'n, 2015 IL App (5th) 140445WC

 

 

Is an injury compensable when an employee sustains an injury while loading a duty bag into his vehicle in his home in preparation for reporting to work?

 

Yes. The appellate court affirmed the Commission’s award of PPD benefits, holding that the safekeeping of the employee’s duty bag was a job-related duty and that loading it into his vehicle was incidental to his job-related responsibility of securing the duty bag. The appellate court also found that this job-related task of safekeeping furthered the employer’s interests.

 

In this case, the employee injured his back while loading his duty bag into his personal vehicle in preparation for reporting to the police station for work. The duty bag weighed approximately 40 pounds and contained the equipment he uses as a police officer on patrol. He was required to keep the duty bag “with [his] person,” but the employer did not require him to take the duty bag home and did not require him to take it to the station at the end of his shift. But, the employer did not prohibit him from keeping the duty bag at his home. The appellate court determined that the employee’s duty bag contained gear and equipment that necessary for the performance of his duties as a police officer, and that he was injured while lifting this equipment in preparation for work. As part of his job duties, the employee was responsible for the safekeeping of his duty bag, which the Commission found was a job-related undertaking, and loading the bag into his vehicle was incidental to this job-related duty. Further, because the employer allowed its officers to secure their duty bags at home, the employer could reasonably expect its officers to perform the tasks necessary for securing their bags at their personal residences (e.g., lifting and unloading the duty bags into their vehicles).

 

Bolingbrook Police Dep't v. Illinois Workers' Comp. Comm'n, 2015 IL App (3d) 130869WC

 

 

Can an employee’s idiopathic fall be found as a compensable work accident in Illinois?

 

Yes. Although an idiopathic fall originates from an internal and personal condition of the employee, injuries resulting from an idiopathic fall are compensable if the employment significantly contributed to the injury by placing the employee in a position increasing the dangerous effects of the fall.

 

In this case, the employee, a water meter reader, died when she suffered an idiopathic fall and drowned in an 8-inch pool of rain water. It was undisputed that the decedent sustained an idiopathic fall. The employer argued that the employment did not place the employee in a position increasing the dangerous effects of her fall because she fell into a rain puddle, which is common everywhere. The employer also contended that the ground where the employee fell posed no greater danger than that to which the public was exposed. The Commission found that the employee’s accident arose out of and in the course of her having to work in conditions that included an eight-inch pool of rainwater, a hazard it found was not confronted by the general public. While the decedent had some flexibility as to when she could read the water meters, she did not have the same flexibility as the general public to avoid standing water and other rural conditions. Her job required her to read the meter in a low-lying secluded area where water pooled whenever it rained. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission’s opinion.

 

City of Bridgeport v. Illinois Worker's Comp. Comm'n, 2015 IL App (5th) 140532WC, ¶¶ 42-45

 

 

If an employee is injured while participating in a recreational work program, will the accident be found compensable?

 

It depends. To recover benefits under the Act, an employee bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that their injury arose out of and in the course of their employment.

 

Under section 11 of the Act, accidental injuries incurred while participating in voluntary recreational programs including but not limited to athletic events, parties, and picnics do not arise out of and in the course of the employment even though the employer pays some or all of the cost thereof. However, this exclusion does not apply in the event that the injured employee was ordered or assigned by his employer to participate in the program.

 

In this case, the employee alleged that he suffered work-related injuries to his knees on two separate occasions while exercising during the “Fall Fitness Challenge,” a physical fitness program which the employer offered to its employees free of charge. The employee testified that he had enrolled in the Fall Fitness Challenge because his supervisor had previously told him to stay fit and to set an example for the firemen under his command by participating in a fitness program. The Fall Fitness Challenge was described as a voluntary 12–week fitness and weight management competition which promoted teamwork and healthy lifestyle changes. During the competition, participants worked in teams and competed to earn points through weekly workouts, nutrition education, and weight loss. Thus, the Fall Fitness Challenge was a competition or contest, i.e., event, that involved exercise, i.e., athletics. The Commission held the program, therefore, fell within the definition of an “athletic event” and constituted a “recreational program” as set forth in section 11. The employee’s accidents were not found compensable and he was not awarded benefits under the Act. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

 

Darin v. Illinois Workers' Comp. Comm'n, 2015 IL App (3d) 140536WC-U

 

 

Is an employee’s job search performed two years after being released from care sufficient to prove he falls into the “odd lot” category of PTD when it was directed at positions unlikely fall within his restrictions and limited to employers advertising in Spanish-language newspapers, even though he was capable of speaking and understanding English and look in English-speaking newspapers?

 

No. The Appellate court affirmed the Commission’s decision that the employee’s job search was “not designed to secure employment for him” and therefore he did not fall into the “odd lot” category of PTD. Because his disability was not shown to be limiting in nature as to render him obviously unemployable, he had the burden of showing that he falls into the “odd lot” category of PTD (1) through a diligent by unsuccessful attempt to find work or (2) that because of his age, skills, training, and work history, he will not be regularly employable in a well-known branch of the labor market.

 

In this case, the employee injured his lower back and right shoulder while lifting a 500-pound large block as a carpenter. Following injections and shoulder surgery, he was released with permanent restrictions of no lifting more than 20 pounds and restricted to “sedentary work.” Two years later, he began to conduct a job search, identifying 180 positions in a job-search log and 15 of those he personally visited. However, the court found that the employee’s job search, performed more than two years after he was released from medical care, was directed at employers (e.g., landscaping, roofing, construction) unlikely to have positions within his permanent restrictions and that he improperly limited his job search by consulting only Spanish-language newspapers despite his sufficient ability to understand English.

 

City of Chicago v. Illinois Workers' Comp. Comm'n, 2015 IL App (1st) 142637WC-U

 

 

© 2016 McAnany, Van Cleave & Phillips, P.A.

Disclaimer and warning: This information was published by McAnany, Van Cleave & Phillips, P.A., and is to be used only for general informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances.  This is not inclusive of all exceptions and requirements which may apply to any individual claim.  It is imperative to promptly obtain legal advice to determine the rights, obligations and options of a specific situation.