A truck driver cannot ask the court to enforce an undisputed portion of a workers’ compensation award if another portion is still under judicial review, a state appeals panel ruled last week.
The 1st District Appellate Court last Thursday held that the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act requires a compensation award to be final before a worker can apply for a court judgment that would order his or her employer to pay up.
The court, the panel added, will not enter multiple judgments to enforce on the same workers’ compensation award.
The three-justice panel rejected Mark Reed’s application for judicial enforcement under Section 19(g) of the act because a portion of his award was being scrutinized by another court.
The panel found the language of the act clearly states judgments to enforce awards will be entered “when no proceedings for review are pending.”
“The fact that plaintiff seeks [S]ection 19(g) enforcement on the same matter that was the subject of reviewing proceedings … bars his [S]ection 19g) application for judgment,” Justice Cynthia Y. Cobbs wrote in the 12-page opinion.
Reed’s attorney, Paul A. Coghlan of Hinsdale-based Paul A. Coghlan and Associates P.C., argued the court’s 12-page opinion would be considered moot in the long run.
That’s because a five-justice panel in the 1st District’s Workers’ Compensation Commission Division on Dec. 18 concluded its judicial review that blocked Reed’s Section 19(g) application and remanded it to the Workers’ Compensation Commission for further proceedings.
The panel in TH Ryan Cartage Co., et al. v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, et al., 2015 IL App (1st) 143209WC-U weighed whether the commission correctly calculated Reed’s wages to determine his temporary total disability (TTD) benefits.
Reed’s employers — TH Ryan Cartage Co. and L&D Drivers Services Inc., both based in Maywood — also argued they did not receive credit for paying a medical bill of roughly $9,000.
The TH Ryan panel remanded the medical bill issue back to the commission, saying the record was insufficent.
Despite the remand, Coghlan argued the award issues are now finalized, and thus he plans to refile Reed’s Section 19(g) application. He also indicated that the issue of whether Reed’s employers would receive credit for paying some of his medical expenses would be resolved quickly.
“It seems a lot of this could have been avoided,” Coghlan said.
During the appeal process, Coghlan filed a motion saying the decision would be rendered moot by the December TH Ryan decision. But the panel disagreed, saying the Section 19(g) application was still a live issue.
Reed was injured in August 2004 when the truck he was driving jackknifed. The commission in January 2012 awarded him medical expenses and TTD benefits based on his wages.
Reed’s employers did not challenge the amount of medical expenses he was awarded. In December 2012, he filed his Section 19(g) application in an effort to have Cook County Circuit Court enter a judgment against his employers, forcing them to pay his medical expense award.
The companies filed a motion to dismiss the application, arguing Reed cannot seek judicial enforcement for part of the workers’ compensation award while part of the award was being reviewed.
Then-Circuit Judge Robert Lopez Cepero granted the companies’ Section 2-619 motion.
In April, the companies sought to impose sanctions on Reed, which the lower court also denied. Both parties appealed.
On appeal, Reed pointed to a 2011 3rd District decision where a worker was awarded the penalties and fees in a workers’ compensation dispute with her employer while her original claim was under judicial review.
But the panel pointed out that the 3rd District centered around different parts of the Workers’ Compensation Act, not Section 19(g).
“Neither [S]ection 19(k) nor [S]ection 19(l) have language requiring that a decision be final before a defendant is liable for penalties or fees for delaying payment of an award,” Cobbs wrote. “In contrast, at issue in the case at bar is not whether defendants are obligated to pay undisputed portions of the [c]ommission’s award, but rather whether [S]ection 19(g) allows a party to enforce such an award in the circuit court.”
The panel also was critical of Reed for asserting his medical expense award was undisputed, pointing to the fact that TH Ryan and L&D were arguing they had not been credited for paying part of his medical expenses.
The justices said they sympathized with Reed’s plight, who has waited years for his awards to be paid out. But they pointed out that the law gives his employers the “statutory right to have their liability ‘fixed under a strict and comprehensive statutory scheme,’” Cobbs wrote.
As a result, the panel upheld Lopez Cepero’s dismissal of Reed’s complaint.
Meanwhile, the companies argued that Reed violated state court rules prohibiting the filing of claims not well-grounded in law when he filed his [S]ection 19(g) application.
Because it was clear the law prevents judicial enforcement of workers’ compensation awards while reviews are pending, Reed should be sanctioned, the companies maintained.
But the panel upheld Lopez Cepero’s dismissal of sanctions against Reed, finding he did not abuse his discretion.
The companies were represented by Joshua G. Vincent, Peter H. Carlson and Robert J. Finley of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP. They declined to comment.
Justices Margaret Stanton McBride and Nathaniel Howse Jr. concurred with the opinion.
The case is Mark Reed v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, et al., 2016 IL App (1st) 130681.