Where a petitioner seeking benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act dies prior to his hearing, the commission’s jurisdiction is suspended until a personal representative is appointed to prosecute the person’s claim and any ruling made prior to that appointment is premature.

The 1st District Appellate Court vacated and remanded a decision from Cook County Circuit Judge James M. McGing.

Gyula Kormany filed an application seeking benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act in April 2008. Kormany alleged that he had been injured while working for A-Tech Stucco EIFS Co.

As the proceedings progressed, A-Tech’s insurance carrier claimed that they had no duty to defend or indemnify A-Tech because A-Tech had breached the terms of its insurance contract. Because of this, Kormany amended his application to name as an additional defendant the Illinois state treasurer, as ex officio custodian of the Injured Workers Benefit Fund for workers whose employers failed to provide the statutorily mandated insurance.

Following a hearing, an arbitrator concluded that Kormany’s injury arose out of and in the course of his employment for A-Tech and that he was entitled to medical expenses and permanent partial disability benefits.

In addition, the arbitrator found that the fund was liable for the award because A-Tech “failed to provide coverage” by breaching its insurance contract. This decision was affirmed and adopted by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, but the Illinois state treasurer sought judicial review.

Following review, the circuit court confirmed the commission’s decision, but the treasurer again appealed.

The appellate court began by examining the jurisdictional issue, starting with one which had been heretofore overlooked: Kormany died in October 2014 of causes unrelated to his workers’ compensation claim.

As a result, the application for claim adjustment was substituted with the Estate of Kormany replacing Kormany as petitioner.

However, no personal representative was appointed and substituted as petitioner to replace Kormany. The appellate court, consulting precedent, found that when a plaintiff dies the plaintiff’s death suspends the court’s jurisdiction until a proper party plaintiff is appointed.

The appellate court found that Kormany’s death suspended the commission’s jurisdiction and its jurisdiction remained suspended because no party plaintiff had been appointed, meaning the commission’s decision — and also the circuit court’s review of that decision — was premature and must be vacated.

Counsel for the Estate of Kormany argued that the claim might proceed to distribution under Section 25-1 of the Probate Act which allows asset distribution with just a small-estate affidavit rather than requiring a representative be appointed.

The appellate court acknowledged that this was permissible for distribution if the claim had already been resolved, but that a personal representative was still required to prosecute a pending worker’s compensation claim, and that in the instant case, Kormany’s claim was prosecuted after he had died and without any personal representative being appointed as a proper party plaintiff.

The appellate court emphasized that they could find no precedent permitting the prosecution of an action by an estate absent the appointment of a personal representative.

The appellate court, therefore, vacated the circuit court and commission’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Illinois State Treasurer v. Estate of Gyula Kormany, et al.

2019 IL App (1st) 180644WC

Writing for the court: Justice Donald C. Hudson

Concurring: Justices William E. Holdridge, Thomas E. Hoffman, Peter C. Cavanagh and John B. Barberis

Released: Feb. 14, 2020