Recently, in the case of Carl Crittenden v. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, the Appellate Court of Illinois for the First District reversed a lower court decision that went against an injured worker. Here, our Rockford workers’ compensation lawyers discuss the case as well as its implications for future disputes.
Carl Crittenden was employed as a sanitation worker by the City of Chicago for nearly three decades. In the spring of 2008, Mr. Crittenden severely injured his back while lifting a heavy bag of debris. After multiple comprehensive medical assessments, his doctor determined that he did not have the ability to lift more than 20 pounds, and that he had already reached his ‘maximum medical improvement’, meaning that he would never regain that ability. Since his employer did not have any ‘light-duty’ positions available that could fit his restrictions, his doctor assessed that he would not be able to return to his current job as a sanitation worker.
An Arbitrator Makes a Ruling on Alternative Careers
As Mr. Crittenden was unable to return to his old job, a ruling had to be made on whether or not he could find an alternative career. This issue went before an arbitrator, where testimony was given regarding Mr. Crittenden’s ability to obtain alternative employment. After assessing all the evidence provided, the arbitrator ruled that Mr. Crittenden would have been able to earn $32.79 per hour at his previous position, but that he would only be able to earn $11.00 per hour at the average alternative career that fit his skill and physical condition. As a result, the arbitrator ordered the city to make up the difference, by paying Mr. Crittenden $581.06 per week in workers’ compensation.
The Workers’ Compensation Commission Alters the Ruling
The City of Chicago appealed the arbitrator’s decision to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. While the city acknowledged that Mr. Crittenden was entitled to compensation, it did not accept the finding of $11.00 as a fair valuation of his alternative career earning potential. At trial, testimony was given that suggested that Mr. Crittenden could earn anywhere between minimum wage and $14.00 per hour. The arbitrator took the average of these figures, however, the city of Chicago argued that because Mr. Crittenden did not make an adequate effort to actually try to obtain alternative employment, he should be deemed capable of earning $14.00 per hour. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission agreed with Chicago, and reduced Mr. Crittenden’s award by nearly $80 per week.
The Appeals Court Reverses
Upon review, the Appeals Court reversed the Commission’s decision to reduce the value Mr. Crittenden’s award. The court referred to the language of the state’s statute, which called for the “average amount a claimant could reasonably earn” to be used in calculating the value of alternative employment. The claimant’s alleged lack of effort was not sufficient grounds to deviate from the clear statutory language. The appeals court noted that this was the first time this specific issue had reached the court, so this decision may set a precedent going forward.
At Brassfield & Krueger, Ltd., we have extensive experience handling Illinois workers’ compensation claims. To find out more about how our team can help you, please call us today at 815 398-9700 or contact us directly online. From our offices in Rockford and Streator, we serve victims throughout the surrounding communities, including in Lasalle and Rochelle.
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