Benefits for Loss of Vision, Other Injuries don’t Equal Double Recovery for Ill. Miner

11 Jun, 2024 Frank Ferreri

                               

Mokena, IL (WorkersCompensation.com) -- When a worker is awarded permanent benefits for a scheduled loss, would an award for unscheduled losses result in double recovery of workers' compensation?

Not according to the court in American Coal Company v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, No. 5-23-0815WC (Ill. App. Ct. 05/31/24), which held that a worker was due benefits for loss of vision in both eyes as well as other injuries related to the same workplace accident.

Read the full text of this case and others from across the U.S. on Simply Research

A long-time underground coal miner filed an application for adjustment of claim, seeking benefits for injuries affecting multiple parts of his body that he sustained while working. These injuries included blindness in both eyes and physical injuries to his spine, hip, abdomen, and "psychological issues" that included nightmares, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.

The accident occurred when the miner got caught in between a 20-ton piece of steel and a coal block, which "squished" the miner to the point where he required colon resection surgery that resulted in a temporary colostomy bag. The colostomy reversal resulted in the miner losing control of his bowels.

The parties stipulated that the miner was entitled to permanent total disability for loss of use of both eyes, but the employer disputed the miner's entitlement to permanent partial disability benefits.

Eventually, the case came before an arbitrator, who ruled that the state's Workers' Compensation Act permitted the miner to recover for the loss of use of both eyes as well as for his unscheduled losses to his spine, hip, abdomen, and psychological injuries. The arbitrator determined the awarding the miner benefits this way did not result in double recover because statutory permanent total disability fell "for short of addressing the full scope" of the miner's injuries.

The commission and then a trial court affirmed the arbitrator's decision, prompting the employer to appeal to the appellate court.

In Illinois, the statute that provides for combinations of losses for injuries that constitute a "total and permanent" disability provides that "these specific cases ... do not excluded other cases."

The appellate court agreed with the miner that denying compensation beyond the scheduled losses would leave him uncompensated for the nonscheduled losses.

According to the court, the Illinois Supreme Court in Beelman Trucking v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, 909 N.E.2d 818 (Ill. 2009) reasoned that the words "total" and "permanent" did not serve as a maximum benefit on benefits for injuries sustained in a single accident.

The court found that applying this logic to the instant case made sense.

"We note that no medical opinions in the record indicate claimant reached maximum medical improvement with regard to his hip, spine, abdomen, or head, or that such injuries resulted in permanent restrictions or a loss of earning capacity," the court wrote. "Despite this, the evidence undoubtedly
demonstrates that claimant’s non-scheduled injuries partially incapacitated him and further impaired claimant’s earning capacity, which resulted in actual increased disability."

Concluding otherwise, in the court's reasoning, would ignore the purpose of the act "to provide 'a flow of benefits to compensate for lost wages' and to compensate workers for the loss of industrial earning capacity."


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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Frank encourages everyone to consider helping out the Kind Souls Foundation and Kids' Chance of America.

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