On June 29, 1996, the claimant, a cement truck driver, sustained major injuries to his head, neck, back, ribs, arm and knees as a result of a crash and rollover of his truck on the Eden’s Expressway in Cook County, Illinois.
The employer, through their Workers’ Compensation insurance company, paid a portion of the claimant’s Workers’ Compensation benefits, but denied coverage for any treatment or lost wage benefits associated with the claimant’s neck injury. The employer’s refusal to pay was based on their contention that the claimant’s neck injury resulted from a previous injury and not the current accident. The claimant had completed medical treatment from the previous neck injury and was working steady without any medical restrictions for several months prior to this accident.
Donald W. Fohrman & Associates, Ltd., on behalf of the claimant, filed a Petition for Immediate hearing pursuant to section 19(b) of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, with the Illinois Industrial Commission, in order to obtain all benefits owed to the claimant. A petition under section 16 and 19 of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation was also filed seeking attorney fees and penalties against the employer. These sections of the Act provide that if the employer’s refusal or delay in paying benefits to the claimant is “unreasonable and vexatious,” they could be held liable to pay substantial penalties and attorney fees.
After an extensive hearing before an arbitrator of the Illinois Industrial Commission, the arbitrator rendered a decision in favor of the claimant awarding him his owed weekly lost time benefits (Temporary Total Disability ) and the sum of his outstanding medical bills totaling $110,000. In addition, the arbitrator awarded the claimant penalties and attorney’s fees in excess of $90,000.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This is a landmark decision representing one of the largest penalty awards assessed against an employer by the Illinois Industrial Commission. It is expected that this decision will cause employers and their Workers’ Compensation insurance companies to “think twice” before denying benefits to claimants without legal justification.
For more information regarding this decision and/or the application of the penalty provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act, please contact our office.