Holocker v IWCC

Holocker v. IWCC, 2017 IL APP (3d) 160363 WC

 

Facts:  Petitioner, a transportation operator, incurred facial and dental injuries when the strap of a crane he operated snapped.  Petitioner eventually returned to full-duty, but requested no crane work. Respondent “generally accommodated” this request, but Petitioner admittedly operated a crane on two or three occasions. Petitioner experienced a panic attack while operating the same crane as his accident.  He was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and given restrictions of “no crane use.” Respondent had 40 technical operator jobs, many of which did not require use of cranes, so Petitioner continued working as a transportation operator, but not required to operate cranes.  Petitioner was subsequently terminated for failing to call-in during sick three days in a row, per the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

 

At the time of Arbitration, Petitioner still missed four teeth, needed additional dental surgery, and still under care for PTSD.  The Section 12 examiner concluded that he could perform full-duty work with the exception of operating cranes. Petitioner testified he sought work within his union, and had promising leads out of state.  He made no effort to secure local employment. Respondent’s vocational expert testified that Petitioner’s restrictions did not preclude him from re-entering the workforce and that various employers in the area were hiring for positions matching Petitioner’s qualifications, salary, and restrictions.  

 

Procedural History:  The Arbitrator awarded TTD benefits from the date of termination through the hearing.  The Arbitrator found compelling that Petitioner still had restrictions when terminated, and that none of the physicians opined placed him at MMI.  The Decision reasoned TTD was owed because Petitioner’s condition had not stabilized as of the date of his termination.  

 

The Commission unanimously reversed the TTD award, finding that the Petitioner’s condition had stabilized before the termination, and did not significantly impact his ability to find work.          

 

The Circuit Court reversed the Commission’s denial of TTD benefits.  

 

Holding:  The Appellate Court held that the Commission’s denial of TTD benefits was not against the manifest weight of the evidence.  A request to review de novo was denied.

 

Rule:  When an employee is terminated for cause, entitled to TTD is decided by whether the injuries stabilized to the extent that they no longer impacted employability or the ability to return to work, not simply whether MMI was reached.

 

Reasoning: The Appellate Court rejected Petitioner’s contention that merely having restrictions and not being placed at MMI (both undisputed) entitled him to TTD.  The Court noted that not at MMI when he was terminated, Petitioner was released to full duty work with the exception of avoiding cranes, retained his original job classification, was terminated for reasons unrelated to the accident, and that his condition had “stabilized.”  The Court found that Petitioner’s restrictions and future treatment for his teeth and psyche did not significantly limit or preclude his ability to find work, noting the testimony of the vocational expert that there were local jobs that could accommodate his restrictions, and that Petitioner had found his own “leads.”

 

Thus, sufficient evidence existed to support the Commission’s conclusion that Petitioner’s work related injuries had stabilized to the extent he was able to re-enter the workforce and his injuries had no impact on his employability.  

 

The Appellate Court distinguished Interstate Scaffolding.  In that case, the issue presented was whether a termination for conduct unrelated to the injury extinguished TTD entitlement.  However in that case and related Decisions, it was undisputed that the employee’s condition had not stabilized, by working in a light duty capacity Petitioner and was unable to perform the pre-injury job.  In Holocker, Petitioner worked full duty in his original job classification, and the evidence supported that his injuries did not affect his employability.  

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