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Salisbury v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District, Workers Compensation Commission Division

January 4, 2017

MARIE SALISBURY, widow of Charles Salisbury, Deceased, Appellant,
ILLINOIS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION, et al. Frank's Flying Service, Inc., Appellee.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Henry County, No. 13-MR-95 Honorable Terence M. Patton, Judge, Presiding.

          JUSTICE HUDSON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Holdridge and Justices Hoffman, Harris, and Moore concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 I. INTRODUCTION

         ¶ 2 Claimant, Marie Salisbury, widow of Charles Salisbury, appeals an order of the circuit court of Henry County confirming a decision of the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) denying her motion for a lump-sum payout of benefits awarded in accordance with the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 2008)). Claimant also contends that respondent, Frank's Flying Service, Inc., is not entitled to a credit against the award based on its overpayment of benefits prior to the arbitration hearing. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         ¶ 3 II. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 Claimant's decedent died in a work-related accident on June 12, 2009, when the crop-duster he was piloting crashed. He was in respondent's employ at the time. Following the accident, respondent began paying claimant $1, 231.41 per week. An arbitration hearing was held on May 8, 2012. Claimant was awarded "death benefits, commencing 6/13/09, of $461.78/week to the surviving spouse, Marie Salisbury, on his or her own behalf and on behalf of the children." Based on this ruling, respondent's initial payment of $1, 231.41 per week resulted in an overpayment of $769.83 per week. Based on this overpayment, respondent was "given a credit of $00.00 for TTD, $00.00 for TPD, and $192, 594.22 for other benefits."

         ¶ 5 Claimant filed a petition for a lump-sum payout. A hearing on that petition was heard before a commissioner on November 1, 2013. Claimant testified at the hearing. She testified that respondent began paying benefits shortly after her husband's death on June 12, 2009. She stated that she understood that she had the option of taking a $500, 000 lump-sum payment or payments for 25 years, and she wished to take the "present commuted value of the 25-year payments." So far, respondent had paid her about $187, 000, which she had mostly saved. She testified that she used some of it for living expenses. Claimant explained that she wanted a lump-sum payout because she did "not want to chance the loss of benefits in the future." She would be "more comfortable" having "control of the those benefits" rather than having them be contingent on "changes in the law or *** the benefits schedule." Moreover, if she passed away during the 25-year period, her benefits would cease and her "children would be deprived of the benefits from this award." On cross-examination, she agreed that $197, 930.33 was "probably close" to the amount she had so far received. She stated that she was not claiming any financial hardship as the basis of seeking a lump-sum payout. She has no minor children. On redirect-examination, she testified that she was employed at an ethanol plant and her income was sufficient to meet her needs.

         ¶ 6 The Commission denied claimant's petition. It first acknowledged the controlling law. Lump-sum settlements are the exception rather than the rule. See Skaggs v. Industrial Comm'n, 371 Ill. 535, 539 (1939). Such a settlement is appropriate only if it is in the best interests of both parties, not simply the claimant. Bagwell v. Industrial Comm'n, 94 Ill.2d 101, 105 (1983); see also Illinois Zinc Co. v. Industrial Comm'n, 366 Ill. 480, 482 (1937). The Commission then noted that since the award to claimant was not a definite sum and could, in certain circumstances, be terminated, it was clearly not in respondent's best interests to commute the ongoing payments to a lump sum. It then found that claimant "had not indicated a basis for finding that a lump sum settlement would be in her own best interests." She has been able to save some of the proceeds of the payments, and her income is sufficient to meet her needs. Any reliance on a possible change of benefits in the future, the Commission stated, was "speculative." Moreover, claimant would lose any future increases in benefits. The circuit court of Henry County confirmed the Commission's decision, and this appeal followed.

         ¶ 7 III. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 8 On appeal, claimant raises two issues. First, she contends that the Commission lacked the authority to allow respondent a credit against the ultimate award due to its initial overpayment of benefits to claimant. Second, she contends that the Commission erred in denying her request for a lump-sum payout. We disagree with both contentions.

         ¶ 9 A. The Credit

         ¶ 10 Claimant first argues that the credit given respondent for its overpayment of benefits prior to the arbitration hearing is void because the Commission has no authority to give a credit against the subsequent award of death benefits. Resolution of this issue requires us to consider whether the Commission has authority to recognize such a credit under the provisions of the Act, so a question of law subject to de novo review is presented (see Emerald Performance Materials, LLC v. Illinois Pollution Control Board, 2016 IL App (3d) 150526, ¶ 25; see also Outboard Marine Corp. v. Industrial Comm'n, 309 Ill.App.3d 1026, 1029 (2000)). Claimant points out that the Commission, a creature of statute, has only the powers granted it by the legislature. Daniels v. Industrial Comm'n, 201 Ill.2d 160, 165 (2002). Any action taken outside its statutory authority is void. Id. According to claimant, the granting of a credit for excessive sums voluntarily paid by an employer is not specifically contemplated by statute, so the Commission has no authority to grant such a credit. Claimant concludes that the portion of the order granting that credit is void. We disagree as to the manner in which claimant frames this issue.

         ¶ 11 Quite simply, what is happening here is that the Commission is merely recognizing that an employer has already made a partial payment that goes to satisfying its obligation. There is no award in the sense that the Commission is not ordering the transfer of any obligations, benefits, or funds from claimant to respondent. Claimant is not being deprived of something she otherwise would have received but-for the action of the Commission. Instead, respondent has voluntarily elected to satisfy part of its obligation prior to a formal order being entered- something which ...

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