Dibenedetto v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission 

By: Cody D. Hartman - Associate - Nyhan, Bambrick, Kinzie & Lowry

 

Case Synopsis:
8(d)1 wage-differential benefits must be determined as of the date of the arbitration hearing. However, where an award for wage differential benefits under Section 8(d)1 involves the maximum rates of compensation as set forth in Section 8(b)4, a claimant is entitled to the State average weekly wage at the time of the injury, and not the date of arbitration.

Case Facts:
Claimant, a hoisting engineer, sustained injuries to his right arm, back, and neck after falling several feet on December 12, 2006. Petitioner was unable to return to his former line of work as a hoisting engineer and began work for an insurance company earning minimum wage on September 9, 2011. At the time of Claimant’s injury, Illinois’s State average weekly wage at the time of Claimant’s injury was $840.65. The matter proceeded to arbitration where the Arbitrator awarded TTD benefits, maintenance benefits, and $982.67 per week wage differential benefits under 8(d)1, to be paid beginning September 9, 2011.

Respondent sought review with the Commission arguing that pursuant to Section 8(b)4, Petitioner is entitled to only the maximum weekly wage-differential benefits which 100% of the State’s average weekly wage. The Commission found the State AWW at the time of Claimant’s accidental injury was $840.65, and reduced his weekly wage-differential benefit to that amount.

On appeal before the Appellate court, Claimant argues the maximum rate applied to his award should have been based on the State AWW at the time of his May 2012 arbitration hearing, rather than the State AWW at the time of his December 2006 accidental injury.

The Appellate Court disagreed, finding first that the legislature placed specific restrictions in Section 8(d)1 to limit recovery for wage differential benefits. Such limitation exists in Section 8(b)4, whereby the maximum amount of 8(d)1 benefits is capped at 100% of the State AWW. Though the Appellate Court noted the Act has consistently been interpreted to require that a wage-differential award be calculated based upon the Claimant’s actual earning at the time of the hearing and what the Claimant would have been earning at the time of the hearing had he not been injured, statutory construction rendered a different result.

Claimant argued that limiting an employee’s wage differential award based on the State AWW in effect at the time of injury rather than the time of hearing is inconsistent with the intent of the Act, which is to thoroughly compensate and financially protect injured workers. Although the Court agreed with the general premise, the Court noted the legislative purpose of Section 8(b)4 of the Act is to limit recoveries.

Impact on Illinois Employers:
In this case, Claimant argued entitlement to the State AWW at the time of Arbitration because the rate had increased from $840.65 to $966.72, a difference of $126.07 per week. Claimant in this case would be paid the sum until the age of 67. This case not only enumerates the limitations set forth in the Act but also effectuates the concept that the Respondent will not be punished by cases that may take several years to resolve. Should the court have found in the opposite, there might be an incentive for claimants to prolong their claims in hopes for a higher State AWW rate.

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