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Recent Appellate Court Decisions
In PPG Industries v. IWCC, 4-13-0698 WC (4th Dist. 2014) the Workers’ Compensation Commission Division of the Illinois Appellate Court reversed a circuit court decision that had reversed an IWCC statute of limitations ruling.
In PPG Industries, the petitioner worked for the employer for 38 years. Petitioner alleged a repetitive trauma injury to her left shoulder. Petitioner alleged an accident date of March 22, 2010. She filed her application for adjustment of claim on April 28, 2010.
At arbitration the employer objected to the petitioner’s testimony describing her 38 year work history. The respondent argued that only the petitioner’s work activities in the three years prior to the date of accident were relevant. The employer argued that since the Act had a three year statute of limitations, the petitioner was barred from offering evidence of anything that occurred three years prior to the accident date. The arbitrator overruled the respondent’s objections and stated the petitioner’s work history for the employer was relevant.
The arbitrator determined the petitioner sustained a repetitive trauma injury to her left shoulder which was causally connected to her employment. The arbitrator noted the petitioner credibly testified to the development of a painful left shoulder over time. The arbitrator determined that the past work history of the employee shoulder be considered and was not confined to the three year period preceding the accident date. The arbitrator held that repetitive trauma injuries take years to develop. An employee should be allowed to present evidence of job duties performed over the course of her employment which may have caused her condition at the time of the accident. The employer reviewed this decision. The IWCC modified portions of the arbitrator’s decision but affirmed the arbitrator’s findings regarding the statute of limitations issue.
The Circuit Court of Macon County reversed the IWCC and agreed with the employer. The circuit court remanded the case to the IWCC with the direction not to consider evidence of injury that occurred more than three years before the petitioner filed her application.
The issue before the appellate court is whether Section 6(d) of the Act bars the presentation of evidence of work activities that took place more than three years prior to the date of accident. The appellate court agreed with the IWCC and held that Section 6(d) of the Act does not bar the presentation of evidence of work activities more than three years prior to the date of accident.
The court noted that Section 6(d) of the Act requires that an application for adjustment of claim be filed with the Commission within three years after the date of accident. A claim can be filed within two years after the date of the last payment of compensation or within 25 years after the last day the employee was exposed to radioactive materials or asbestos. The date of an accidental injury in a repetitive trauma case is the date in which the injury manifests itself. In this case, the petitioner alleged a repetitive trauma injury to her left shoulder. She alleged that this injury occurred gradually over time. The petitioner alleged her repetitive trauma injury manifested itself on March 22, 2010. The petitioner filed her application for adjustment of claim on April 28, 2010, which would have been a month after the manifestation date. The petitioner filed her application well within the three year limitations period of Section 6(d).
The court noted there was no evidentiary limitation mentioned in Section 6(d) of the Act. Section 6(d) provides a limitation for the filing of a claim. Section 6(d) does not comment on what evidence may be presented. Repetitive trauma injuries may take years to develop. A claimant’s work history may be relevant to determine whether she sustained a repetitive trauma injury. The court looked at prior cases which considered work histories longer than three years.
The IWCC determined that the claimant’s entire work history was relevant to her claim. Evidentiary issues made by the IWCC will be upheld on review absent an abuse of discretion. The appellate court determined that the Commission’s evidentiary rulings were not properly before the court. Those issues were not addressed. The appellate court held that Section 6(d) of the Act was not the proper basis to support the employer’s objection to the evidence presented at arbitration. Section 6(d) is a statute of limitations setting forth the appropriate time frames in which a claimant must file his application for adjustment of claim. Section 6(d) does not contain any evidentiary limitations.
The appellate court found that Section 6(d) of the Act does not contain an evidentiary limitation which bars the presentation of evidence of a claimant’s work activities which occurred more than three years prior to the alleged accident date for a repetitive trauma claim.
Editor’s Note: It is important to note that this is a repetitive trauma workers compensation claim. This is not an occupational diseases claim. Claims under the Occupational Diseases Act should remain unaffected by this decision. Pursuant to Goodson v Industrial Commission, 190 Ill.App.3d 16 (1st. Dist. 1989), sections 1(f) and 6(c) are read together. Section 1(f) requires disablement within three years of the date of last exposure for most occupational diseases claims. Section 6(c) requires that a claim be filed within three years of the date of death. A claimant must satisfy the requirements of both section 1(f) and 6c).
Petitioners claiming compensation under the Occupational Diseases Act still have to show disablement within the time prescribed by section 1(f). This requirement is unaffected by the court’s decision in PPG Industries. Unlike occupational disease cases repetitive trauma workers compensation cases do not have a statutory limitation for disablement. Repetitive trauma workers compensation cases do have a medical causal connection requirement. Although this petitioner’s work activities, which occurred 20 years before the accident, were admissible the appellate court did not address the weight the distant activities were entitled to. In PPG Industries the petitioner alleged a repetitive trauma manifestation or accident date while she was still working for PPG. The petitioner in PPG Industries filed her claim within three years of her accident which satisfied Section 6(d).
Petitioners still have to show medical causal connection for repetitive trauma workers compensation claims despite the PPG Industries decision. The court specifically stated Section 6(d) was not the correct way to address the evidence issue.
Adjusters should note there is a difference between the admissibility of evidence and the weight the evidence is entitled to from the trier of fact.