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Ravenswood Disposal Services v. The Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission

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

June 28, 2019

RAVENSWOOD DISPOSAL SERVICES, Appellant,
v.
THE ILLINOIS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION et al. (Sergio Lagunas, n/k/a Sergio Delgado, by His Parent/Guardian Maria Diaz, Next of Kin of Raul Lagunas, Deceased, Appellee).

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 17 L 051033 Honorable James McGing, Judge, Presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant: Arisa Taguchi, of Knell, O'Connor, Danielewicz, of Chicago, for appellant.

          Attorneys for Appellee: Jack M. Shapiro and Francis J. Discipio, of Law Offices of Francis J. Discipio, Ltd., of Oak Brook, for appellee.

          JUSTICE HOFFMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Holdridge and Justices Hudson, Cavanagh and Barberis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          HOFFMAN JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Ravenswood Disposal Services (RDS) appeals from an order of the circuit court of Cook County, confirming a decision of the Illinois 'Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) that (1) found that an employment relationship existed between it and the decedent, Raul Laguna, on September 14, 2013, when, while working, Raul was pinned between two vehicles resulting in his death, and that Raul's minor son, Sergio Lagunas, now known as Sergio Delgado, qualifies as a dependent under section 7(a) of the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/7(a) (West 2012)), notwithstanding the fact that he was adopted by Isidro Delgado subsequent to the date of the accident, which resulted in the death of his father; (2) awarded Sergio death benefits and weekly benefits until age 18 or, if he is enrolled in an accredited educational institution, until age 25, penalties under sections 19 (k) and (1) of the Act (id. § 19(k), (l )and attorney fees under section 16a of the Act (id. § 16a); and (3) ordered it to pay Raul's medical bills of $17, 570.61, subject to the statutory fee schedule. For the reasons which follow, we affirm.

         ¶ 2 The following factual recitation is taken from the evidence adduced at the arbitration hearing held on October 26, 2015.

         ¶ 3 Maria Diaz and Raul married on June 4, 1996. Their son, Sergio, was born on November 9, 2001. Maria and Raul divorced on August 18, 2010, and on October 17, 2010, Maria married Isidro Delgado. It is uncontested that Raul died on September 15, 2013, after he was crushed between a dump truck and front loader on the premises of RDS on September 14, 2013. The parties stipulated that RDS paid funeral and burial costs totaling $14, 062.50 and made one payment of $1497.60 for death benefits.

         ¶ 4 Maria testified that, after she and Raul divorced, Raul complied with the court's order to pay her child support, which, according to their marital settlement agreement (MSA), amounted to $313.04 every other week. Later, when Raul began receiving cash payments from RDS, he gave Maria payments totaling $200 to $300 per week. Until he died, Raul made those payments on a weekly or monthly basis, depending on when Maria needed the money, and also gave Sergio a weekly allowance of $10 to $30. Maria explained that she and Raul "provided for" Sergio even though he lived with her and Isidro and, although she did not have "frequent" contact with Raul, he responded "any time [she] needed help from him." After Raul died, Isidro adopted Sergio, and Maria changed the last name on his birth certificate from Lagunas to Delgado. Until his adoption, Sergio used the last name Lagunas.

         ¶ 5 Branko Vardijan, RDS's president, testified that Raul began working for RDS and its related companies "a few years before his death." A spreadsheet entered into evidence showed that RDS paid Raul a total of $37, 674.70 between September 8, 2012, and September 11, 2013. Raul received $750 per week between September 8, 2012, and November 10, 2012, but entries between November 17, 2012, and September 11, 2013, varied between $0 and $1264 per week. Vardijan stated that RDS initially paid Raul by sending checks to a staffing company but later, at Raul's request, paid him directly in cash. RDS did not issue him "W-2" or "1099" forms for the cash payments. Vardijan explained that the cash payments began following a conversation in March 2013 between him, his brother, and Raul, during which Raul requested to "do work differently." Specifically, Raul asked to work at just one of RDS's premises and to set his own hours. Notwithstanding, Vardijan stated that he told Raul "what to do" and agreed that he "control[led] *** the way that [Raul] did his job." Vardijan added that he considered Raul to be an employee and acknowledged that, when the accident occurred, he was "doing the work that employees do."

         ¶ 6 Sergio testified that, at the time of the hearing, he considered his parents to be Maria and Isidro. He agreed that Isidro "bought [him] things" after marrying Maria and that he spent most of his free time with Isidro and Maria and went on vacations with them. Sergio agreed that he did not see Raul often after Raul and Maria divorced but also stated that Raul picked him up from school two or three days per week and would give him $5 or $10. Sergio's school records and a martial arts award from 2015 listed his last name as Delgado, but he explained that he did not use the name Delgado until "after" Maria and Isidro "changed [his] last name."

         ¶ 7 Maria testified that, at the time of the hearing, she paid "a hundred percent" of the expenses for Sergio's "[h]ealth and welfare." When Isidro contributed, he typically paid "a little less" than 30% of Sergio's expenses.

         ¶ 8 Prior to the close of proofs, Maria's counsel entered into evidence a notice issued by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) to RDS, stating that DHFS "has become subrogated to [Raul] 's right of action to recover medical expenses paid on [his] behalf." Maria's counsel also tendered bills from the medical providers who treated Raul before he died. Although counsel represented that the bills "were sent directly to [Maria]," each was addressed to Raul at his address in Chicago.

         ¶ 9 RDS's counsel objected to the admission of the bills into evidence on the basis that "many of [the bills] have been reduced," but he did not specify which bills were inaccurate and did not provide his own calculations for the unpaid expenses. The arbitrator asked RDS's counsel whether he had "any other grounds" for objecting to the bills' admission into evidence, and he said, "no." Next, the arbitrator asked Maria's counsel whether the bills were obtained pursuant to subpoena and certified for purposes of the Act. Maria's counsel stated that the bills were certified but that the certifications were not attached to them and that he could "make [a] representation to the court" that they had been obtained ...


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