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PPG v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission

 Dec. 1, 2014

By: Cody D. Hartman & Shuaib A. Ahmed

Petitioner worked for the Respondent for nearly 38 years in their glass factory. Petitioner utilized her left upper extremity when working and filed a Workers’ Compensation claim on April 28, 2010, indicating a repetitive-trauma injury to her left shoulder.

At trial, Petitioner testified to her various positions and job duties, as well as to the extent to which she utilized her left upper extremity when working. Respondent objected to Petitioner’s testimony describing her nearly 28-year work history. Respondent argued that only Petitioner’s work activities in the three years prior to “the date of Petitioner’s alleged repetitive trauma were relevant. Further, Respondent argued the three-year statute of limitations prohibited consideration of “anything that occurred three years prior to the accident or manifestation date alleged.”

The Arbitrator overruled Respondent’s objections stating Petitioner’s alleged work history was relevant testimony. The decision was affirmed by the Commission. The Circuit Court reversed remanding the matter to the Commission. The Circuit Court instructed the Commission not to consider evidence prior to the three years before Petitioner filed her Application.

The question before the Illinois Appellate Court was whether Section 6(d) of the Act, which sets forth a three-year statute of limitation for workers’ compensation claims, act as a bar to the presentation of evidence of work activities that took place more than three years prior to the date of accident of a repetitive-trauma injury?

The Illinois Appellate Court held that Section 6(d) of the Act does not bar the presentation of evidence of work activities that took place more than three years prior to the date of accident of a repetitive-trauma injury.

The Appellate Court reviewed Section 6(d) of the Act, which bars the filing of an application for adjustment of claim “unless the application for compensation is filed with the Commission within three years after the date of accident.” In repetitive trauma cases, determining the date of accident has been set forth by case-law. The date of accident for repetitive-trauma cases is the date on which the injury “manifests itself.”

“Manifests itself” means the date on which both the fact of the injury and the causal relationship of the injury to the claimant’s employment would have become plainly apparent to a reasonable person. Peoria County Belwood Nursing Home v. Industrial Com., 115 Ill. 2d 524, 505 N.E.2d 1026 (1987).

The Court admitted this was an evidentiary issue to be resolved by the Commission; this issue is not governed by the Act’s statute of limitations.  The Court held Section 6(d) was not the proper basis to support Respondent’s objection to the evidence presented at Arbitration since Petitioner’s application and manifestation date had been compliant with the rules set forth in prior case-law and the Act. Further, the Court reiterated that Section 6(d) bars only claims that are not filed within the stated time frames, and that Section 6(d) does not contain any evidentiary limitations.

 Impact on Illinois Employers:

An employee may claim a repetitive trauma claim after retirement, or removal from employment, within three years from the manifestation date.

1. The employer should preserve all documentation, including employee’s job description, HR records, etc., for the entire duration of the employee’s employment.

2. Note that this may be overly burdensome for the employer; however, as noted in this case, the employee will be allowed to testify to his or her job duties for the entire duration of employment with the employer. Availability of documents relative to the employee’s work duties from date of hire may be critical in rebutting this testimony. Otherwise, the employee may be able to testify to “repetitive” work related tasks without contradictory evidence.