Worker Was Entitled To Wage-Differential Award Based On Post-Injury Light-Duty Work Performed For Defendant

In awarding a wage-differential award under Section 8(d)1 of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, the Commission rejected defendant’s argument that claimant’s light-duty job with defendant was not suitable employment.  Although defendant’s vocational rehabilitation expert showed there were other jobs in the labor market that could be available to claimant, defendant provided no medical opinion to verify that these jobs were within claimant’s restrictions.

Claimant, a supervisor, testified that along with managing defendant’s automotive shop, he worked on most of the heavy-duty truck repairs and some cars.  He injured his feet at work when he fell 14 feet off a ladder.  He was diagnosed with acute sprain/contusion to both feet and a fractured navicular bone in his right foot.  He underwent surgery and five months of physical therapy. At the time of injury, he was earning $1,000 per week.  He returned to work at light duty with defendant performing paperwork, payroll and ordering parts.  He was paid $400 per week from defendant and also received $00 per week from defendant’s insurance carrier. Claimant’s work restrictions required he have the ability to rest or perform sedentary work when his right foot pain increased during the workday.  Defendant subsequently stopped paying claimant the additional $400 per week. Defendant’s certified rehabilitation counselor performed a vocational assessment and labor market survey and found a labor market for a person with claimant’s capabilities and limitations as a supervisor/estimator in an auto body shop at $41,000 per year or as auto collision adjuster at $40,000 per year.

The arbitrator awarded 74 5/7 weeks of temporary total disability, 57 1/7 weeks of maintenance benefits and found claimant lost 50% of the use of his right foot under Section 8(e) of the WCA.

The Commission modified the decision of the arbitrator by vacating the award under Section 8(e) and instead finding claimant entitled to a wage differential of $400 per week under Section 8(d)1.  In so holding, the Commission found claimant had proven he sustained a partial incapacity preventing him from pursuing his pre-injury job as a supervisor.  Claimant’s testimony and his doctor’s records show he could not perform his pre-injury duties. The Commission noted the vocational rehabilitation counselor opined claimant could no longer perform the physical demands of an auto body technician.

The Commission further found claimant had proven an impairment of earnings, for claimant earned $1,000 per week prior to the accident and returned to post-injury work on a light-duty basis earning $00 per week. The Commission rejected defendant’s argument the light duty job was not suitable employment.  Although defendant’s vocational rehabilitation expert showed there were other jobs in the labor market that could be available to claimant, defendant provided no medical opinion to verify that these jobs were within claimant’s restrictions.  Further, defendant provided not assistance to help claimant obtain any of these jobs.  The Commission found the light-duty job at defendant was within claimant’s restrictions and he was successfully performing the required duties, as opined by defendant’s vocational expert.  Based on this evidence, the Commission concluded the light-duty job at defendant was suitable and was the true measure of claimant’s post-injury earning capacity.  The Commission determined claimant sustained impairment of earnings of $600 a week and was therefore entitled to a wage differential of $400.