Tony Curtis v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and Village of Lansing No. 2013 Ill.App. (1st 120976WD)
Tony Curtis was awarded TTD, PPD and medical benefits after a series of hearings. The Arbitrator’s decision was dated January 25, 2005, and was not reviewed by either party. On January 21, 2010, Curtis filed a Petition for Hearing Pursuant to Section 8(a), claiming benefits for an October 5, 2009 surgery, following which he was authorized off work for some 18 weeks. The village paid the cost of medical treatment, but refused to pay TTD benefits. Curtis filed a Section 8(a) petition, and petitions pursuant to 19(k), 19(l) and 16 of the Act.
At the hearing on the petitions, the village disputed liability for additional TTD, asserting that any request for such benefits must be brought under Section 19(h) of the Act, which would bar TTD payments in this case as the petition was filed beyond the 30-month statutory time limit imposed by Section 19(h). The village further maintained that Section 8(a) does not entitle a claimant to additional TTD following the expiration of the Section 19(h) period.
The Commission denied the claim for additional TTD benefits, stating that no Section 19(h) petition was filed, presumably because the 30-month period required by 19(h) had expired. The Commission considered Curtis’ claim to be for ‘maintenance’ under Section 8(a), but found that maintenance under a vocational rehabilitation situation, while provided under Section 8(a), “is not the same as TTD albeit the benefit rate for TTD and maintenance may be the same.” The Commission concluded there was no provision in Section 8(a) providing for the relief Curtis was seeking.
The Appellate Court took up Curtis’ argument that additional TTD benefits can be awarded under Section 8(a). Curtis argued that Section 8 authorized the payment of additional TTD benefits for the “destabilization” of a work-related injury beyond the 30-month statutory time limit set forth in Section 19(h). The court first quoted Section 19(h) of the Act, which states in pertinent part:
“[A]s to accidents occurring subsequent to July 1, 1955 which are covered by any…award under this Act providing for compensation in installments…, such…award may at any time within 30 months…after such…award be reviewed by the Commission at the request of either the employer or employee on the ground that the disability of the employee has subsequently recurred, increased, diminished, or ended.”
The court noted that the purpose of Section 19(h) is to set a time period within which the Commission can consider whether an injury has recurred, increased, decreased, or ended. This time limit is jurisdictional and begins to run from the date of the Commission decision or, when no review of an Arbitrator’s decision is sought, the date of the arbitration decision.
Considering this, the court held that the petition for additional TTD benefits was untimely under Section 19(h). The court dismissed Curtis’ claim that Section 19(h) is silent with regard to temporary total disability benefits and that the term “disability” in Section 19(h) was intended to refer exclusively to permanency. Curtis argued that the use of the modifiers “increased” and “diminished” in Section 19(h) made it clear that the word “disability” was intended to refer only to permanency and, therefore, did not exclude a claim for further temporary total disability which cannot “increase” or “diminish,” but can only begin and end. The court disagreed, stating that this definition ignored the plain language of Section 19(h), which also contains the modifier “recurred” when referring to the term “disability.” Thus, while permanent injuries can increase or decrease, only temporary disability can “recur” which permits the Commission to re-establish compensation payments. Since only temporary disability can recur, it necessarily follows that only TTD payments may be “re-established.” When Section 19(h) is read as a whole, it is clear that the legislature did not intend to limit its scope to permanency, but rather to cover TTD benefits as well.
Curtis also argued that Section 8 of the Act did not place a time limit on the availability of TTD benefits, citing the silence of that section on whether benefits were limited either prior to or after a finding of disability. When Section 8 was amended in 1975, it abolished a 64-week time limit on TTD; therefore, Curtis argued that the legislature intended that TTD benefits under Section 8 were intended to be unlimited. The court was not persuaded by this argument either. Section 8(a) makes no provision for the relief Curtis requested, and even if the petition were to be considered one under Section 8(b), the section governing TTD payments, the court would have rejected Curtis’ argument. The court stated that to adopt an interpretation of a statute permitting unlimited Section 8(b) benefits would be to render meaningless the 30-month limitations period in Section 19(h) as it relates to TTD benefits. Therefore, Curtis’ claim for additional TTD benefits was denied.
Curtis was, in essence, asking the court to interpret the Act as broadly as possible, this based on its being a remedial statute intended to provide financial protection for injured workers and, while one can appreciate the equitable aspect of his argument, the court chose to strictly interpret Section 19(h) and to ignore the lack of a limit on TTD benefits as provided in Section 8(b). One could state that it does no violence to Section 19(h) to grant unlimited TTD benefits under Section 8(b). However, the court looked to the meaning of Section 19(h) and the wording of that section as it applies to ‘recurring’ disability. The court seemingly made a narrow interpretation of the statute, something unusual in your editor’s experience. Noting that the result of this decision was a harsh one, the court felt it “a concern better addressed to the legislature” than to the court’s interpretation.
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