O'Neil v. IWCC

 

O’Neil v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n

2020 Il App (2d) 190427WC

 

In a recent decision, the Appellate Court affirmed the Commission’s Decision vacating Section 16 attorney’s fees and Section 19(l) penalties imposed at arbitration. The Commission, relying in part on the opinion in Hollywood Casino-Aurora, Inc. v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, 2012 IL App (2d) 110426WC, concluded it was without statutory authority to award attorney’s fees and penalties pursuant to sections 16 and 19(l) of the Workers’ Compensation Act.

 

Petitioner suffered a right knee injury that ultimately required surgery. Respondent initially authorized the surgery, but later revoked its approval citing its need for “additional investigation.” At trial, the Arbitrator found a compensable right knee injury, and ordered Respondent to pay for the surgery. In addressing penalties and attorney’s fees, the Arbitrator found Respondent “offered no good-faith arguments at trial indicating there was a genuine controversy pertaining to the payment of benefits under the Act, i.e., authorizing the surgery.” Accordingly $6,900.00 was awarded pursuant to section 19(l) for “unreasonably delaying payments under section 8(a) of the Act i.e., authorizing the surgery.” In addition, the Arbitrator found Respondent liable for attorney’s fees of $1,380.00 pursuant to Section 16 of the Act for, in part, “creating an unreasonable and vexatious delay.” The Arbitrator expressly declined Section 19(k) penalties.

 

Respondent appealed the Arbitrator’s Decision, which the Commission modified to reflect it lacked statutory authority to award penalties based on a decision to revoke authorization for Petitioner’s knee surgery. The Commission found the same reasoning applied to Section 16 and Section 19(l), as it did for Section 19(k) penalties requested in Hollywood Casino. The Appellate Court summarized:  “The Commission also observed that Section 16 attorney’s fees are predicated on an award pursuant to section 19(k) of the Act, and since Hollywood Casino held that Section 19(k) does not allow it to award penalties for the failure to authorize medical treatment, it follows that Section 16 attorney’s fees are likewise not available under such circumstances.” Accordingly, the Commission was found to have properly vacated the Arbitrator’s award of attorney’s fees and penalties.

 

In conclusion, the Appellate Court affirmed no section of the Act allows the Commission to assess penalties against an employer for failure or delayin authorizing medical treatment.

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