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Recent Appellate Court Decisions
In Matuszczak vs. IWCC, 2-13-0532 WC (2nd Dist. 2014), the Workers’ Compensation Commission Division of the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the circuit court’s finding which had reinstated an Arbitrator’s award of TTD benefits for a petitioner who had not yet reached maximum medical improvement and had been terminated for cause.
In Matuszczak, the petitioner suffered a compensable injury to his neck, back and right arm. He received conservative treatment and was given light duty employment. The petitioner’s treating physician recommended surgery. While the petitioner was on light duty, he was terminated from his employment for an incident unrelated to his work injury. The petitioner remained unemployed. At arbitration, the petitioner was presented with a statement written by the petitioner acknowledging that the petitioner had stolen cigarettes from the employer and that this conduct could result in his termination. During cross examination, the petitioner agreed that if he had not stolen cigarettes, he might still have been working for the employer in a light duty capacity at the time of arbitration. The petitioner testified that he had looked for light duty employment, but was still unsuccessful at the time of arbitration.
The arbitrator awarded medical expenses and ordered the employer to authorize the recommended surgical procedure. The arbitrator also awarded 23 2/7 weeks of TTD benefits, which was TTD from the day the petitioner was terminated from his employment up to the date of arbitration. The arbitrator noted that pursuant to Interstate Scaffolding the employer is obligated to pay TTD benefits even if the employee has been discharged for cause. The correct inquiry in determining entitlement to TTD benefits is whether the claimant’s condition has stabilized. If the petitioner continues to be temporarily and totally disabled as a result of his work injury, he is entitled to TTD benefits whether or not he is terminated for cause.
The IWCC vacated the arbitrator’s award of TTD benefits after the termination for cause. The IWCC review panel reasoned that the employee’s intentional theft constituted a refusal of work within his physical restrictions.
The petitioner appealed the IWCC decision to the Circuit Court of DuPage County. The circuit court reversed the portion of the IWCC decision that had vacated the arbitrator’s TTD award.
The issue before the appellate court is whether the IWCC’s denial of TTD benefits is contrary to the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in Interstate Scaffolding. The appellate court determined that the IWCC decision was contrary to the Supreme Court’s decision in Interstate Scaffolding. The appellate court affirmed the circuit court which had reversed the IWCC and reinstated the arbitrator’s award of TTD benefits.
In Interstate Scaffolding, the Illinois Supreme Court held that when an employee who is entitled to receive worker’s compensation benefits as a result of a work injury is terminated for conduct unrelated to the injury, the employer’s obligation to pay TTD benefits continues until the Petitioner has reached MMI and his medical condition has stabilized. The Illinois Supreme Court rejected an analysis of whether the Petitioner’s departure from the workforce was voluntary. The appellate court noted that the Act contains no provision providing for the termination of TTD benefits as a result of an employee’s discharge by his employer. An employer’s obligation to pay TTD benefits to an injured employee does not cease because the employee has been discharged from employment. It does not matter whether or not the discharge was for cause. Whether a petitioner is entitled to TTD benefits depends on whether the petitioner’s condition has stabilized. Whether or not an employee has been discharged for a valid reason is not a matter for the IWCC. An employee’s entitlement to TTD benefits does not depend on the propriety of the discharge. When an employee who is entitled to benefits under the Act is terminated for conduct unrelated to his injury, the employer’s TTD obligation continues until the employee’s medical condition has stabilized. This is true even in cases of dismissal for cause. The Illinois Supreme Court expressly rejected an interpretation of the Act that would support a denial of TTD benefits where an employee’s conduct was the basis for termination. In this case, the petitioner sustained a compensable work accident. The petitioner was discharged by the employer for acts unrelated to his injury. The appropriate inquiry for the Commission should have been whether the petitioner’s medical condition had stabilized at the time of his termination. The undisputed facts in this case showed the petitioner was placed on light duty restrictions after the accident and he remained on light duty restrictions after his termination. The Petitioner had not yet reached maximum medical improvement. His condition had not stabilized. The Petitioner continued to be temporarily and totally disabled as a result of his work injury. He was entitled to TTD benefits from the time of his termination to the time of arbitration.
Editor’s Note: This case is consistent with the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in Interstate Scaffolding. If the Petitioner is on light duty employment and his condition has not yet stabilized, he continues to receive TTD benefits even if he is terminated from his light duty employment for cause. It is not up to the IWCC to determine whether or not the Petitioner’s intentional conduct caused him to be terminated from his light duty employment. The function of the IWCC is to determine whether or not the Petitioner’s condition had stabilized, not whether or not his termination was proper.