Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Workers' Compensation Commission Division
ILLINOIS STATE TREASURER, as ex-officio custodian of the Injured Workers' Benefit Fund, Plaintiff-Appellant,
ESTATE OF GYULA KORMANY, A-TECH STUCCO EIFS COMPANY, and the ILLINOIS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION, Defendants, (Estate of Gyula Kormany and A-Tech Stucco EIFS Company, Defendants-Appellees).
from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 17-L-50583.
Honorable James M. McGing, Judge, Presiding.
JUSTICE HUDSON delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Presiding Justice Holdridge and Justices Hoffman,
Cavanagh, and Barberis concurred in the judgment and opinion.
1 In April 2008, Gyula Kormany (Kormany) filed an application
for adjustment of claim seeking benefits pursuant to the
Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et
seq. (West 2008)) for injuries he allegedly sustained
while working for A-Tech Stucco EIFS Company (A-Tech). In
June 2009, the circuit court of Cook County found that
A-Tech's workers' compensation insurance carrier had
no duty to defend or indemnify A-Tech against Kormany's
workers' compensation claim because A-Tech had breached
the insurance contract. Kormany subsequently amended his
application for adjustment of claim to name as a party the
Illinois State Treasurer (Treasurer), as ex officio
custodian of the Injured Workers' Benefit Fund (Fund).
After finding that Kormany's accident arose out of and in
the course of his employment with A-Tech, the arbitrator
awarded medical expenses and permanent partial disability
benefits. The arbitrator also concluded that the Fund was
liable for payment of the award because, although A-Tech had
workers' compensation insurance at the time of the
accident, it "failed to provide coverage" within
the meaning of section 4(d) of the Act (820 ILCS 305/4(d)
(West 2008)) by breaching the insurance contract. A majority
of the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission
(Commission) affirmed and adopted the decision of the
arbitrator. The circuit court of Cook County confirmed the
decision of the Commission. The Treasurer timely appealed.
2 We observe that in October 2014, prior to the arbitration
hearing, Kormany died of causes unrelated to his workers'
compensation claim. There is no evidence of record that a
personal representative was appointed and substituted as the
petitioner following Kormany's death. Instead, the
application for adjustment of claim was amended to substitute
the Estate of Kormany as petitioner. When confronted with
similar circumstances, Illinois courts have found that the
plaintiff's death suspended the court's jurisdiction
until the appointment of a proper party plaintiff. See
Voga v. Voga, 376 Ill.App.3d 1075, 1079 (2007)
(finding that party's death suspended the trial
court's jurisdiction until the court appointed a proper
successor plaintiff); Washington v. Caseyville Health
Care Ass'n, 284 Ill.App.3d 97, 100-01 (1996)
(holding that client's death terminated attorney's
authority and, since there was no plaintiff, the court's
jurisdiction was suspended until a party plaintiff was
appointed). Accordingly, we hold that Kormany's death
suspended the Commission's jurisdiction over his claim
until such time as a personal representative of Kormany's
estate was properly appointed and substituted as the
petitioner. In the absence of such an appointment and
substitution, the Commission's decision was premature and
therefore improper. As a result, both the decision of the
Commission and the judgment of the circuit court must be
3 During oral arguments, the attorney representing the party
denominated as the Estate of Gyula Kormany suggested that if
the gross value of Kormany's estate is less than $100,
000, the claim could proceed under section 25-1 of the
Probate Act of 1975 (Probate Act) (755 ILCS 5/25-1 (West
2008)), which provides for the payment or delivery of a small
estate upon affidavit. While section 25-1 of the Probate Act
undoubtedly permits the distribution of an
estate's assets by means of a small-estate affidavit, we
find this to be separate and distinct from the requirement
that a personal representative of the decedent's estate
be appointed to prosecute a workers'
compensation claim that is pending and unresolved at the time
of the employee's death. Indeed, this circumstance is no
different from when a plaintiff in a pending common law
action dies. In such circumstances, a personal representative
of the deceased plaintiff's estate is appointed and
substituted as the party plaintiff. See 735 ILCS 5/2-1008(b)
(West 2008); In re Marriage of Fredricksen, 159
Ill.App.3d 743, 744-45 (1987). Thus, while the proceeds of a
judgment may be distributed pursuant to the small-estate
procedure outlined in the Probate Act, no authority has any
been cited to us that would permit the prosecution of an
action absent the appointment of a personal representative.
4 For the reasons set forth above, we are compelled to vacate
the judgment of the circuit court and the decision of the
Commission and remand the case to allow a properly appointed
representative of Kormany's estate to be substituted as
the petitioner and for further proceedings thereafter.
5 Circuit court judgment vacated.
6 Commission decision ...