Appeal from the Circuit Court of Williamson County. No. 92 MR 54. The Honorable Paul S. Murphy, Judge Presiding.
Rakowski, McCULLOUGH, Woodward, Slater, Rarick
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rakowski
JUSTICE RAKOWSKI delivered the opinion of the court:
The employee, Ralph L. Upchurch (claimant), filed two separate applications for an adjustment of claim pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 48, par. 138.1 et seq.) for back injuries that he allegedly sustained in the course of his employment with Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company (employer).
The dates of the accidents were March 4, 1991 (March accident), and April 11, 1991 (April accident). Because of a change on April 1, 1991, Royal was the employer's insurance carrier for the March accident and Travelers insurance represented the employer with respect to the April accident. Claimant's attorney was the same for both accidents.
Travelers retained the law firm of Stevenson, Rusin and Friedman, Ltd. (Stevenson), for the April accident, and Stevenson filed its appearance in the April accident, case no. 91 WC 28606, on June 14, 1991. Royal retained the law firm of Sweeney and Riman, Ltd. (Sweeney), for the March accident. Although Sweeney filed its appearance for the March accident, case no. 91 WC 27948, on July 12, 1991, it also inadvertently filed an appearance in the April accident case.
The arbitrator consolidated both claims and, after a hearing, issued separate decisions in September 1991. The arbitrator found that the claimant's condition of ill being was not causally related to the March accident but was causally related to the April accident. Both decisions were sent by certified mail and received by both claimant's attorney and Sweeney. No decision was mailed to Stevenson. Neither party filed a petition for review of the March accident case.
On November 6, 1991, the claimant's attorney wrote to Stevenson requesting a demand for payment of benefits based on the arbitrator's decision regarding the April accident. Stevenson responded that it had never received a copy of the arbitrator's decision, and on November 13, 1991, Stevenson filed a petition for review with the Industrial Commission (Commission) for the April accident. In December 1991, the claimant's attorney filed a special and limited appearance, objecting to the jurisdiction of the Commission to review the arbitrator's decision. The Commission, without addressing the jurisdiction issue, held:
"That the April 11, 1991, incident was not an accident within the meaning of the Act but only a mere manifestation of the claimant's prior injuries. The sum totality of the testimony and medical evidence points to the Conclusion that [claimant] suffered only an aggravation of the preexisting condition.
Based upon the above, and after a complete review of the entire record, the Commission reverses the decision of the arbitrator, and finds that petitioner failed to prove he sustained accidental injuries arising out of and in the course of his employment on April 11, 1991."
On claimant's petition for judicial review, the circuit court reversed the Commission's decision. According to the circuit court's order, because Sweeney had filed appearances for both accidents, it was unnecessary to send a copy of the decision to Stevenson. As a result, Stevenson's "Statement of Exceptions" was outside of 30 days, and the Commission was without jurisdiction. Thus, the circuit court found that the arbitrator's award for the April accident was "final and conclusive on the Industrial Commission."
The sole issue we review is whether the Commission was without jurisdiction. We reverse and remand.
Section 19(b) of the Act states in part:
"The decision of the arbitrator shall be filed with the Commission which Commission shall immediately send to each party or his attorney a copy of such decision, together with a notification of the time when it ...