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Appellate Court Rejects Commission’s Attempt to Allow Petitioner to Re-Try Her Case

By John F. Kamin

In Help at Home v. IWCC, Petitioner alleged she had injured her low back and right shoulder while lifting a wheelchair. Petitioner did not have a history of low back problems, but did have a prior shoulder injury. The case proceeded to a 19(b) hearing and the Arbitrator awarded TTD, past medical and prospective medical treatment. The employer appealed the Decision to the Workers’ Compensation Commission. On review, the Commission found that the claimant “failed to prove that her condition of ill-being as it pertains to her right shoulder is causally related to the accident…,” and otherwise affirmed the Arbitrator’s Decision. However, in addition the Commission remanded the matter back to the Arbitrator and specifically provided that “on remand, the Arbitrator may consider additional evidence with respect to causal connection of the right shoulder to the accident.”

The Employer filed an a judicial review of the Commission opinion to the circuit court which found that the Commission had authority under the facts of the case to remand the matter to the Arbitrator for purposes of considering additional evidence with regard to causal connection concerning the right shoulder.

On appeal, the Appellate Court found that the Circuit Court erred, as a matter of law, in confirming that part of the Commission Decision which provided that, on remand, the Arbitrator could consider additional evidence related to causal connection between the accident and the right shoulder condition. Under the doctrine of “law of the case,” a court’s unreversed decision on an issue that has been litigated and decided settles all questions for subsequent stages of the action. The court noted the Commission specifically found that the Claimant “failed to prove that her condition of ill-being as it pertains to the right shoulder was causally related to the accident.” There was never an appeal of that Decision and that determination became the law of the case. The Claimant was barred from raising the issue of causal connection between her right shoulder condition and the accident during any further proceedings on remand. The Court specifically found that the case could not be remanded so that the Petitioner could attempt to obtain more evidence, such as an opinion from a treating physician that her shoulder condition was related to the accident, and then re-litigate the issue.

This confirms the reality that claims cannot be arbitrated on a “piecemeal” basis. Unless the parties present a stipulation to the Arbitrator that additional evidence may be introduced on an issue at a subsequent hearing, then any findings made by the Arbitrator at a 19(b) hearing, whether it relates to accident, AWW, causal connection, notice, etc. are the final determination. The Court will not allow issues to be re-litigated. The lesson is that all issues that may be in dispute must be litigated at the 19(b) hearing. Further, in cases involving issues of causal relationship, specifically where it may be on a repetitive trauma claim or multiple injuries, it remains the Petitioner’s burden to prove the elements of the claim. If Petitioner fails to present evidence which establishes causal relationship between the condition and the injury or activity, then the employees run the significant risk that the claim be denied.

Originally published in the Winter 2010 edition of Quinn Quarterly.

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