In the case of Tommy Oliver v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, Mr. Oliver was working as a pile driver for Rausch Construction on July 19, 2011 at a work site located at Belmont Harbor, which is on the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois. He stated that, “…he was standing on a small barge using an acetylene and oxygen torch to cut steel when some sparks or fire flew out and struck him in the chest. He testified that, in response, he jerked his right arm back, striking his right elbow against a steel wall.” After the incident, Mr. Oliver continued working for the rest of the day. When the work day ended, he was laid off. He did not report the injury that day, “…because he thought it was just a regular injury that comes with construction work.”
On July 25, 2011, Mr. Oliver saw an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Waxman, who ordered an MRI, which showed a full-thickness tear that involved the triceps tendon. After Mr. Oliver saw the doctor, he placed a phone call to his former employer on that same day, which was six days after the date of the accident. The site superintendent told Mr. Oliver that he would not allow Mr. Oliver to fill out an accident report because he did not report the accident on the same day that it occurred. Mr. Oliver proceeded to hire an Illinois workers’ compensation attorney, who filed the case for him on July 28, 2011.
On August 1, 2011, Dr. Waxman performed surgery on Mr. Oliver’s right triceps tendon. Mr. Oliver then underwent physical therapy treatment from August 18 through October 24, 2011, and he was then released to work with a 15 pound lifting restriction on October 25, 2011. Dr. Waxman finally released him from medical care on December 14, 2011.
At the time of the arbitration hearing for this case, the employer had not paid any workers’ compensation benefits or bills related to the injury. During the hearing, it became apparent that the employer’s only reason for denial of benefits was that the employee had failed to report the accident on the day that it occurred, which, under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, is not sufficient reason for denial of a claim. As a general rule, an employee in the state of Illinois must report a work injury within 45 days of the date of accident. (There are exceptions to this rule, which you can read about here: https://www.cortilaw.com/injured-at-work-what-should-i-not-do/). On March 9, 2012, the arbitrator’s decision awarded the injured worker temporary total disability (TTD) benefits of $1087.20 per week for 12.429 weeks, $20,510.37 in medical bills, and permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits of $695.78 per week for 50.6 weeks, representing a 20% loss of use of the right arm. The arbitrator also awarded the petitioner with $4,230 in section 19(l) penalties, $17,011.59 in section 19(k) penalties, and $6804.64 in section 16 attorney fees, “finding that the employer’s refusal to pay him TTD benefits was unreasonable and vexatious.”
The employer pursued review of the arbitrator’s decision by the Commission, arguing against the penalties and attorney fees. The Commission reversed the arbitrator’s decision of penalties and attorney fees, but mostly affirmed the arbitrator’s decision. Mr. Oliver then filed a petition for judicial review in the Circuit Court. The Circuit Court entered an order on December 2, 2014, reversing the Commission’s decision, and reinstating the arbitrator’s decision regarding penalties and attorney fees.
Aside from highlighting the fact that an employee in Illinois generally has 45 days to report a work injury, this case is also interesting in that it shows an example of just how long the process can take. Some cases are longer, and some are shorter, but this one is an example of how much time it can take, especially when the employer fights a claim. In summary, here is the timeline of this case:
- July 19, 2011 — Date of work injury
- July 28, 2011 — Work comp claim was filed
- August 1, 2011 — Right triceps tendon surgery
- October 25, 2011 — Released to work with restrictions
- December 14, 2011 — Released from medical care
- March 9, 2012 — Arbitrator’s decision finally awarded the injured worker benefits
- December 2, 2014 — The legal process reached its end with an order from the Circuit Court