Matuszczak v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission

 Dec. 1, 2014

By: Cody D. Hartman & Shuaib A. Ahmed

Petitioner worked for the Respondent as a night stocker. Petitioner sustained injuries to his neck, back, and right arm when a fully stocked shelf of glass cleaner fell on him. Petitioner thereafter sought treatment and filed a Workers’ Compensation claim.

While working in a light duty capacity for the Respondent, Petitioner was terminated for stealing cigarettes from the Respondent. At the time Petitioner was terminated, Petitioner was working in a light-duty capacity and had not reached maximum medical improvement.

The matter was tried, and the Arbitrator awarded TTD benefits from the day Petitioner was terminated to the date of the arbitration hearing. In the Arbitrator’s decision, he relied on Interstate Scaffolding v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and found Petitioner had not reached a point of maximum medical improvement and thus was entitled to TTD. The Commission affirmed the decision, however, the Circuit Court reversed.

In Interstate Scaffolding the Illinois Supreme Court held that the dispositive inquiry in determining whether a claimant is entitled to TTD benefits is whether the claimant’s condition has stabilized, i.e. whether the claimant has reached maximum medical improvement. Interstate Scaffolding, Inc. v. Ill. Workers' Comp. Comm'n, 236 Ill. 2d 132, 923 N.E.2d 266 (2010). Further, Interstate Scaffolding held “that an employer’s obligation to pay TTD benefits to an injured employee does not cease because the employee has been discharged…”

In light of Interstate Scaffolding, the Court held in this case, regardless of whether or not the Petitioner knew his actions of stealing were wrong, the determination of TTD benefits is contingent on maximum medical improvement. Although the ultimate determination relies on a Petitioner reaching MMI, the Court did confirm that TTD may be suspended or terminated in three specific instances: (1) if a claimant refuses to submit to medical, surgical, or hospital treatment essential to his recovery; (2) fails to cooperate in good faith with rehabilitation efforts; or (3) refuses work falling within the physical restrictions prescribed by his doctor.

Impact on Illinois Employers:

A thorough assessment must be made when considering an employee’s termination status as it relates to the pending workers compensation case.

1. While the Supreme Court has made it clear that an employer does not have an obligation to hold a job for an injured employee, termination of employee may impact TTD exposure.

2. An employee’s willful criminal violation should be well documented and the evidence preserved as it can certainly be used at trial for credibility purposes.

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