The Commission Does Not Have to Adopt Impairment Ratings Automatically

Continental Tire of the Americas v. IWCC, 2015 IL App (5th) 140445WC

By: Conor P. Desmond - Associate - Nyhan, Bambrick, Kinzie & Lowry

 

Synopsis: The Commission does not have to adhere to or automatically adopt impairment ratings submitted by either party. Additionally, the petitioner does not have to submit a written report to substantiate a claim of permanent disability. It is enough for the petitioner to testify regarding his or her disability.

 

Facts: Petitioner, a 49 year-old labor trainer, tripped and fell while taking trash to a dumpster, fracturing his wrist. One month later, Petitioner’s treating physician placed Petitioner at maximum medical improvement and released him to full duty with no restrictions. The doctor thereafter prepared a written report containing an AMA impairment rating wherein he opined Petitioner had no permanent impairment as a result of the injury. At trial, Petitioner testified to minor residual symptoms, including occasional pain in his left hand and problems with his wrist when he worked around the house, played golf, or lifted something heavy. 

 

The Arbitrator concluded Petitioner sustained a 5% loss of use of the left hand as a result of the accident, and the Commission affirmed. The employer appealed, arguing that as a matter of law, Petitioner’s request for PPD should have been denied because he did not present a §8.1b(a) physician’s report that would support a finding of disability.

 

The appellate court rejected that assertion, holding the Act does not require the claimant to submit a written physician’s report. Rather, the statute only requires the Commission consider a report that complies with §8.1b(a), “regardless of which party submitted it.” The court further held nothing the statutory language required the Commission to automatically adopt the reported level of impairment merely because the parties submitted only one report. To hold otherwise would be contrary to the Act’s mandate that no single enumerated factor shall be the sole determinant of disability. The court concluded the Commission had properly weighed the evidence regarding all the listed factors. 

 

Impact on Illinois Employers: Employers should carefully consider the obtaining and submission of an impairment rating at arbitration as its impact may not be as significant as originally thought. While petitioners are not required to submit a report to support his or her claim for permanent disability, the Commission is required to consider any impairment report submitted by either party as part of its decision. However, the mere fact that an impairment report exists does not automatically require the Commission to concur with its conclusions. In this instance, the Commission felt Petitioner’s testimony of his ongoing pain and limited range of motion was more credible than the impairment report.

 

This area of Illinois workers’ compensation is still changing as many supporters of the AMA impairment rating believe this ruling is counter to the statutory purpose of the rating. 

 

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