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Theis v. The Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Workers' Compensation Commission Division

March 17, 2017

BRITTANY M. THEIS, Appellant,
v.
THE ILLINOIS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION et al. (Steak 'n Shake Operations, Inc., Appellees).

         Appeal from Circuit Court of Cook County No. 15L50631Honorable Alexander P. White, Judge Presiding.

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

          OPINION

          HARRIS JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 In May 2014, claimant, Brittany Theis, was awarded benefits under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 to 30 (West 2012)), for an injury to her right arm resulting from a March 3, 2013, fall at work. Neither she nor the employer, Steak 'n Shake Operations, Inc., filed a petition for review.

         ¶ 2 In October 2014, claimant filed a petition for penalties and fees pursuant to sections 19(l), 19(k), and 16 of the Act. Following a December 2014 hearing, the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) awarded claimant section 19(l) penalties in the amount of $4, 920, but it denied claimant's request for section 19(k) penalties and section 16 fees. On judicial review, the circuit court reversed the Commission's award of section 19(l) penalties, but it otherwise confirmed the Commission's decision. Claimant appeals, asserting the Commission's award of section 19(l) penalties was appropriate. We affirm.

         ¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 In April 2013, claimant filed an application for adjustment of claim pursuant to the Act for an injury to her right arm resulting from a March 3, 2013, fall at work. An arbitration hearing was conducted on April 7, 2014. On May 23, 2014, the arbitrator issued his decision, finding that claimant suffered a work accident and awarding her benefits under the Act. Specifically, he awarded claimant temporary total disability (TTD) benefits in the amount of $460 (which had already been paid by the employer); permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits in the amount of $19, 481 (88.55 weeks at a rate of $220 or 35% permanent loss of use of her right arm); and "all medical expenses contained in [claimant's] Exhibits 1-9." Neither party filed a petition for review of the arbitrator's decision.

         ¶ 5 On October 3, 2014, claimant filed a petition for penalties and fees pursuant to sections 19(l), 19(k), and 16 of the Act. She asserted that more than 130 days had passed since the arbitration decision was entered and that the employer had yet to pay either award.

         ¶ 6 On October 8, 2014, the employer issued claimant a check in the amount of $19, 481 for payment of the PPD award.

         ¶ 7 The record shows an October 16, 2014, email from the employer's counsel to claimant's counsel which states, "I've never received any of your exhibits from trial and I must note I've asked several times since we tried the case. You allowed me to look through your trial exhibits the day of trial however I was never provided a copy." Counsel for the employer further noted its records showed that it had already "paid a significant amount of [claimant's] medical bills" but stated, "[w]ithout your exhibits, we're unable to calculate the correct amount which was awarded at trial. Please send your exhibits to our office as soon as you can so we can calculate what is owed and what was paid and we can cut a check." On December 4, 2014, the employer issued a check to claimant in the amount of $55, 997.04 for her medical expenses.

         ¶ 8 On December 9, 2014, a hearing on claimant's petition was conducted before the Commission. Regarding the award for medical expenses, claimant asserted that her medical bills "were submitted at trial in evidence and they were awarded pursuant to the arbitrator's award at that time on May 23, 2014." Claimant further argued that despite the employer's "notice of those outstanding bills prior to proceeding to the hearing, " it "waited over 196 days to pay the award of medical expenses." In contrast, the employer argued it did not receive copies of claimant's medical bills until October 27, 2014, after having requested them from claimant's attorney. According to the employer, it was not relevant if copies of the medical bills were admitted at trial because the Act requires the medical bills to be tendered to the employer for payment. The employer further stated that upon receiving the medical bills from claimant, "a fee schedule calculation [was] made and the bills compared to other bills and other records we had previously received to make sure that there was no balanced [sic] billing or double billing." Once those tasks were completed, the employer issued claimant a check on December 5, 2014.

         ¶ 9 Regarding the payment of the PPD award, the employer admitted the payment was late. However, it maintained that no request for payment had been made by claimant prior to the filing of her petition for penalties and fees, a copy of which the employer received on October 6, 2014. According to the employer, "that was the first time they were made aware that there had been the nonpayment of the award." The record shows the employer issued claimant a check in the amount of the PPD award on October 8, 2014.

         ¶ 10 On August 3, 2015, the Commission entered its decision. First, it denied claimant's request for section 19(k) penalties and section 16 fees, finding she failed to prove the employer acted in an unreasonable or vexatious manner. Specifically, the Commission noted claimant had not (1) tendered the medical bills at issue to the employer until October 17, 2014, or (2) requested payment of her PPD award prior to filing her petition for penalties and fees. Essentially, it found that claimant's actions-or failure to act-caused the delay in the payment of the awards. Nonetheless, the Commission awarded claimant section 19(l) penalties in the amount of $4, 920 ($30 per day from June 23, 2014, through December 3, 2014) due to the employer's failure to "timely pay[] the award or amounts otherwise due for medical bills and permanency upon the award becoming final and non-appealable."

         ¶ 11 The employer appealed the Commission's award of section 19(l) penalties. On April 12, 2016, the circuit court of Cook County reversed the Commission's award of section 19(l) penalties, finding that the employer's delay in paying the awards was justified. It otherwise ...


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