Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District, Workers\' Compensation Commission Division
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Appeal from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County. No. 12-MR-21. Honorable John P. Schmidt, Judge, presiding.
In the matter of a workers' compensation claim for the injuries claimant suffered in an alleged unwitnessed accident that occurred while he was moving and placing large rip rap rocks along an embankment, the decision of the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission that the claimant met his burden of proving that he sustained accidental injuries arising out of and in the course of his employment was affirmed by the appellate court, the trial court's decision that the Commission's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence was reversed and the cause was remanded for further proceedings, since, in the absence of a record containing the claimant's testimony, the Commission would be presumed to have properly assessed the claimant's credibility, and any doubts arising from the incomplete record would be resolved in favor of the Commission's findings.
M. Michael Waters (argued), of Vonachen, Lawless, Trager & Slevin, of Peoria, for appellant.
Matthew J. Daley (argued), of Odelson & Sterk, Ltd., of Evergreen Park, for appellee.
JUSTICE STEWART delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Holdridge and Justices Hoffman, Hudson, and Harris concurred in the judgment and opinion.
[¶1] The claimant, Danny Farris, worked for the employer, Phoenix Corp. of the Quad Cities, as a union laborer. The claimant maintained that on April 26, 2005, he was involved in a workplace accident as he was moving and placing large rip rap rocks along an embankment. He filed a claim under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act (the Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 2004)). No one witnessed the accident, and the employer disputed the claimant's assertion that the accident occurred. In October 2005, the matter proceeded to an expedited hearing before the arbitrator pursuant to section 19(b) of the Act (820 ILCS 305/19(b) (West 2004)).
[¶2] The contested issue of whether a compensable accident occurred has generated a significant amount of procedural history beginning with the October 2005 expedited hearing and leading up to the present appeal. At the conclusion of the expedited hearing in October 2005, the arbitrator found that the claimant was not credible and did not sustain his burden of proving the accident. In April 2007, the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) affirmed and adopted the arbitrator's decision. In January 2009, the circuit court reversed the Commission's decision and remanded the claim for further proceedings. The circuit court reversed the Commission for two reasons: (1) the Commission improperly considered impeachment testimony as substantive evidence and (2) the Commission improperly denied the claimant's request to reopen the proofs to submit a report of a CT myelogram that became available after the close of the proofs. Upon reversal, the Commission vacated the arbitrator's decision and remanded the claim to the arbitrator for further hearings consistent with the circuit court's directives.
[¶3] On July 14, 2010, the arbitrator reconsidered the record in light of the new CT myelogram report and consistent with the circuit court's directions concerning the impeachment evidence. The arbitrator again denied the claimant benefits, finding that the claimant was not credible and failed to prove that a workplace accident occurred. The claimant again appealed the arbitrator's decision to the Commission. On June 27, 2011, the Commission reversed the arbitrator's decision, finding that the claimant was credible and proved that he sustained a workplace accident. The Commission stated that the claimant " met his burden of proving he sustained accidental injuries arising out of and in the course of his employment with [the employer] on April 26, 2005." The Commission's decision was based on its assessment of the claimant's testimony as well as his medical records and reports, including the newly admitted CT myelogram report. One commissioner dissented because she agreed with the arbitrator's decision.
[¶4] The employer appealed the Commission's decision to the circuit court. On August 13, 2013, the circuit court found that the Commission's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence and entered a judgment reversing the Commission's decision. Specifically, the circuit court stated that it reviewed the record and the Commission's decision and agreed with the dissenting commissioner. The court, ...