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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Appeals court vacates IWCC ruling in neck injury claim case

By David Hutton | Dec 21, 2017

MOUNT VERNON – The Fifth District Appellate Court has overturned a Randolph County ruling that upheld an Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission ruling in an employee’s adjustment claim seeking benefits from Gilster-Mary Lee Corp.

Presiding Justice William E. Holdridge delivered the Dec. 8 order of the court, with Justices Thomas E. Hoffman, Thomas M. Harris, Donald C. Hudson and James R. Moore concurring.

The appellate court panel concluded that the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (IWCC) ruling that the final action establishing a contract for hire between the William Bunn and Gilster-Mary Lee Corp. wasn’t in opposition to the majority of the evidence.

However, the panel concluded that the IWCC’s finding that Bunn gave proper notice of an accident within 45 days as required for its jurisdiction was erroneous as a matter of law, overturning Associate Judge Eugene Gross's ruling in the case.

According to the appellate court order, Bunn had filed an application for adjustment of claim seeking benefits from Gilster-Mary Lee under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act after he sustained injuries to his neck in an Aug. 13, 2009, workplace accident at a site in McBride, Mo.

Arbitrator Nancy Lindsey ruled that Illinois was not the proper jurisdiction for the claim. She also noted that even if it were the proper venue, Bunn failed to give timely notice to Gilster-Mary Lee, which employed Bunn as a truck driver, the ruling states.

Bunn was injured when he was trying to pull a fifth-wheel pin during a truck route assignment for the company. After seeking treatment, his condition worsened, until he was diagnosed with “severe multilevel cervical spondylosis, stenosis and a recent exacerbation of upper extremity dysesthesias,” the ruling states.

In court testimony, a physician presented evidence that stated Bunn’s cervical spinal issues were the result of chronic conditions and the accident played no role in his issues or need for surgery, according to the ruling.

The appellate court noted that the IWCC would have jurisdiction over all workers' compensation claims if the incident occurred in Illinois, if the claimant’s employer is principally located in the state or if a contract for hire was made in the state.

Bunn claims he was under contract when he left Gilster-Mary Lee’s Chester headquarters. The company, however, maintains he wasn’t hired until he arrived at a facility in Perryville, Mo. where his driving record was checked and he was informed of work policies.

With evidence that either conclusion could be correct, the appellate court said it could not say that the conclusion opposing the ruling of the IWCC was clear.

“Therefore, the Commission's finding that the last act necessary to complete the contract for hire occurred in Illinois is not against the manifest weight of the evidence,” Holdridge wrote.

Gilster-Mary Lee also argued the commission erred when it found that Bunn provided adequate notice of the accident.

The commission acknowledged the accident occurred on Aug. 13, 2009, but it would not “start the clock” until Sept. 14, 2009, when Bunn sought treatment for his injuries.

“The commission's finding was erroneous as a matter of law. The act requires notice be given 'not later than 45 days after the accident,'" Holdridge wrote. “Here there is no question that the accident occurred on Aug. 13, 2009, and notice was required under the Act on or before Sept. 27, 2009.”

After the appellate court determined that the IWCC lacked jurisdiction over Bunn’s claim, it ruled the “employer's remaining issues as to causation and benefits are moot and need not be addressed.”

“The judgment of the circuit court of Randolph County, which confirmed the decision of the commission, is reversed,” Holdridge concluded. “The commission's decision and opinion on review is vacated.”

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Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court Randolph County Circuit Court