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Walker v. Industrial Commission

February 02, 2004

RODNEY WALKER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION ET AL. (AMERENCIPS), DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 02MR253 Honorable Patrick W. Kelley, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice McCULLOUGH

PUBLISHED

Claimant, Rodney Walker, filed an application seeking benefits for injuries from employer, AmerenCIPS, pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1998)). On June 1, 2001, an arbitrator concluded claimant had suffered compensable injuries on March 30, 1998, and February 23, 1999, and awarded claimant temporary total disability (TTD) benefits for 112 weeks up to the time of the hearing at a rate of $702.40 per week, and for each week thereafter at the same rate. On April 22, 2002, the Illinois Industrial Commission (Commission) modified the arbitrator's decision, vacating the award of TTD benefits covering the time period after hearing and concluding claimant was temporarily totally disabled for only 29 6/7 weeks. The Commission otherwise affirmed the arbitrator's decision.

On May 10, 2002, claimant filed an action in the circuit court of Sangamon County, seeking administrative review of the Commission's decision. On January 9, 2003, the circuit court confirmed the Commission's decision. On appeal, claimant argues that the Commission improperly reduced his award of TTD benefits from 112 weeks to 29 6/7 weeks. We affirm the trial court's judgment as modified by an award of 84 weeks' TTD benefits.

On March 30, 1998, claimant was employed by employer as an electrical utility foreman. On that date, he ruptured a disc in his back when lifting a reel of wire. Claimant underwent a laminectomy and performed rehabilitation. He returned to work for about two months.

On February 23, 1999, claimant ruptured a disc in his back when he slipped on a sheet of ice while exiting his truck. Claimant underwent a second laminectomy. Claimant did not return to work after February 23, 1999. Employer paid claimant TTD benefits through October 13, 2000.

Dr. Sheehan, who performed the two laminectomies, informed claimant about his physical condition following the second procedure, stating that "he couldn't do anything about it, it's not your problem." Claimant sought a second opinion from Dr. David Robson.

Dr. Robson examined claimant on September 15, 1999. On that date, Robson indicated claimant had two options, "either accept his condition with permanent light duty work restrictions" or undergo surgery. Even with successful surgery, claimant "would still be left with light to moderate restrictions." Robson directed claimant "to think his options over and let me know." If claimant elected against surgery, Robson concluded that claimant would then have "reached the point of maximum medical improvement." At the April 19, 2001, hearing, the only matter before the arbitrator was the extent of TTD benefits under section 19(b) of the Act (820 ILCS 305/19(b) (West 1998)). Claimant testified he currently had back pain, pain down both legs, and numbness in his left foot. He wanted the surgery because he believed it would help with the back and leg pain, although it "wouldn't help a whole lot" with the numbness. He stated he was unable to work or perform the duties of electrical utility foreman. This statement was supported by the report of Dr. Anne-Marie Nicolazzi, which indicated claimant was unable to pursue the essential functions of the electrical utility foreman position.

However, claimant acknowledged Dr. Robson had opined to him that he "had reached the point of maximum medical improvement." He further acknowledged that at the October 4, 2000, follow-up visit Robson found no significant change in his medical condition since September 15, 1999.

The arbitrator stated that in light of the fact employer had paid TTD benefits to claimant through October 13, 2000, the only issue to be decided at hearing was whether claimant was entitled to continuing TTD benefits. She found that continuing TTD benefits was warranted where claimant could not return to his duties as electrical utility foreman. She further found claimant had not reached maximum medical improvement because he had continued pain and he had not indicated against any surgery. Because claimant indicated a desire for surgery at hearing, the arbitrator concluded that "an inference exists that he has not reached MMI." She found that continuing TTD payments was required in this case where no change had occurred since October 13, 2000. She awarded TTD benefits from the date of the second injury, February 23, 1999, "to and including the date of this hearing April 19, 2001, and each and every week thereafter at the rate of $702.40 per week until further order of this Arbitrator."

The Commission modified the arbitrator's decision by reducing the amount of TTD benefits from 112 to 29 6/7 weeks to cover the period between the February 23, 1999, injury and the September 15, 1999, office visit, and vacating the arbitrator's award of TTD benefits for "each and every week thereafter." The Commission otherwise affirmed the decision. It remanded the case to the arbitrator, pending any appeal, to determine any further amount of TTD benefits and compensation for any permanent disability. Claimant filed an action for administrative review in the circuit court of Sangamon County, and the circuit court confirmed the Commission's decision. This appeal followed.

Claimant contests the Commission's decision to reduce TTD benefits from 112 weeks to 29 6/7 weeks. He argues that because employer stated on the request for hearing claimant had suffered 84 weeks of temporary total disability, the Commission was without the power to reduce his TTD benefits below that level. Claimant suggests that where "a party stipulates to a fact, that party cannot later claim that the fact is incorrect."

The disputed language is contained in the "Industrial Commission Request for Hearing" form. Claimant argued he was temporarily totally disabled from February 23, 1999, up through the date of the hearing, amounting to 111 weeks of TTD (the time period through the time of hearing was actually 112 3/7 weeks), and stated that his condition was continuing in nature. Employer indicated on the form that it disputed the issue of duration and countered that claimant was temporarily totally disabled for 84 weeks, from February 23, 1999, through October 13, 2000.

Claimant contends the Commission did not have the power to modify TTD benefits to a period any less than 84 weeks because the statement on the request for hearing was in ...


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