Illinois Workers’ Compensation Decision Affirmed – Pactiv v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission

Workers’ compensation claims arise as a result of an employee being injured on the job. Because of the unique nature of these cases, Illinois workers’ compensation claims are handled by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC) instead of a civil court. However, just like other court systems, sometimes the IWCC does not rule correctly and claimants need to appeal its decision to a higher authority.

For example, in the case of Pactiv v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (Juan Luna, Appellee, No. 1-10-0086 WC, both the employer and employee appealed the decision made by the IWCC. The Illinois worker injury lawsuit arose out of an injury that the claimant, Juan Luna, received while working for his employer, Pactiv. Mr. Luna operated an extrusion machine, which created plastic rolls that weighted between 70 and 80 lbs., and was responsible for making simple repairs and basic adjustments.

However, while operating the extrusion machine in 2004, Luna lost five fingers on his right hand, which was also his dominant hand. Mr. Luna underwent extensive physical therapy and was able to eventually lift up to 5 lbs. with his right hand. His physician cleared Mr. Luna to return to medium or heavy duty at work. While Pactiv initially placed Mr. Luna on light duty, he was eventually returned to his prior job of running the extrusion machine.

Even though Mr. Luna was essentially doing the same job as he was before his work injury, he was not performing it at the same level. After the accident, Mr. Luna became much slower at running the extrusion machine. However, he was earning the same wage of $13.50 per hour while at Pactiv.

Even though Mr. Luna continued to make the same wage for less work, he worried about his earning potential should he leave his current position. Luna told the IWCC that Pactiv was only keeping him employed in order to avoid paying workers’ compensation payments. However, should they elect to let him go, Luna argued that he would only be making $9.25 per hour elsewhere, even if he went back to school for vocational training and took another job.

Because of the $4.25 an hour difference between Mr. Luna’s old wage and his potential future wage, Mr. Luna argued to the IWCC that he should qualify for a wage differential. A wage differential would essentially make up a portion of the difference between an employee’s pre-incident rate of pay and his lower rate of pay following a work injury.

However, the IWCC did not agree with Mr. Luna and instead found that the was entitled to an award based on his injury. Workers’ compensation awards are very specific, laying out exactly how much money a given employee is entitled to for each specific injury he or she has. The IWCC elected to apply §8(d)(2) of the Workers’ Compensation Act to Luna’s case. This section is called the “Person-As-A-Whole” award and is granted when the person suffers from serious and/or permanent injuries. According to the IWCC, Luna was entitled to 50 percent of the loss of a person as a whole.

However, both Luna and his employer appealed this ruling. Luna again argued that he was entitled to wage differential payments, while his employer argued that instead of being entitled to person-as-a-whole compensation, that Luna was instead only entitled to payment for his lost fingers. For example, under §8(e) of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, if an employee loses his first or index finger as a result of a work injury, then he is entitled to 40 weeks pay.

When considering its opinion, the Illinois Appellate Court looked towards preventing a double recovery, meaning that a client “shall not receive any compensation under any other provisions’ language was intended to prevent a double recovery.” Upon review of the Illinois workers’ compensation, the appellate court found that Luna could be titled to either the rules in §8(d), such as those laid out by the IWCC, or it could be entitled to an award under §8(e), as the employer suggested. However, Luna could not be entitled to both kinds of award under the principles of a double recovery in an Illinois workers’ compensation claim.

In its decision, the appellate court agreed with the IWCC that the employee was entitled more under §8(d)(2) for person-as-a-whole recovery. Therefore, the employer’s claim for alternate benefit options was denied. Likewise, the claimants request for wage differentiation was not met because he failed to file his legal documents in a timely manner. So despite an appeal filed by both the employee and employer, the original ruling stands.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Chicago workers’ compensation claims and Cook County work injury lawsuits for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Calumet City, Rolling Meadows, Bridgeview, and Orland Park.

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