Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District, Workers Compensation Commission Division
MARIE SALISBURY, widow of Charles Salisbury, Deceased, Appellant,
ILLINOIS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION, et al. Frank's Flying Service, Inc., Appellee.
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
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
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