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Recent Developments in Illinois Workers’ Compensation Disability Criteria

The criteria for determination of permanent partial disability under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act of Illinois, 820 ILCS 305, was modified in September 2011.  Under Section 8.1b of the Act, for accidental injuries that occur on or after September 1, 2011, permanent partial disability shall be established using the following criteria:

(a) A physician licensed to practice medicine in all of its branches preparing a permanent partial disability impairment report shall report the level of impairment in writing. The report shall include an evaluation of medically defined and professionally appropriate measurements of impairment that include, but are not limited to: loss of range of motion; loss of strength; measured atrophy of tissue mass consistent with the injury; and any other measurements that establish the nature and extent of the impairment. The most current edition of the American Medical Association’s “Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment” shall be used by the physician in determining the level of impairment.

(b) In determining the level of permanent partial disability, the Commission shall base its determination on the following factors: (i) the reported level of impairment pursuant to subsection (a); (ii) the occupation of the injured employee; (iii) the age of the employee at the time of the injury; (iv) the employee’s future earning capacity; and (v) evidence of disability corroborated by the treating medical records. No single enumerated factor shall be the sole determinant of disability. In determining the level of disability, the relevance and weight of any factors used in addition to the level of impairment as reported by the physician must be explained in a written order.(Source: P.A. 97-18, eff. 6-28-11.)

Notably, the legislature added the AMA impairment ratings to a list of criteria for evaluating the permanent partial disability of an injured worker for the first time in Illinois.  The Illinois Courts have recently released decisions which help clarify the Section 8.1b.

In a recent case,  Respondent Flexible Staffing Services appealed the Arbitrator’s decision awarding benefits to Petitioner Frederick Williams. The Arbitrator noted that impairment rating did not equate to permanent partial disability.  Flexible Staffing Services had argued that the AMA impairment rating by respondents’ medical examiner had not been given enough weight.  The Commission responded that to give more weight to AMA impairment rating would disregard the other factors of Section 8.1b and the Appellate Court agreed.  No single factor is the sole determinant of disability.  Impairment is not synonymous with disability when it comes to the ultimate permanent partial disability award.

Along that same vein, in the case of Armstrong v. Con-way Freight, the Appellate Court specifically ruled that the AMA impairment rating was not the “primary factor” to be considered in establishing the permanent partial rating award.

The differences in the opinions are subtle.  In one, the Court found that the AMA impairment rating is not to be given more weight than other factors, and in the other, the Court found that the AMA impairment rating was not the primary factor to be considered.

When dealing with the ramifications of a permanent work injury, it is important to have attorneys who are aware of current Illinois law on your issues and who will take the time to discuss them with you.  We encourage you to call your lawyer at any time with questions about the law and about your case.  The lawyers at Kurasch & Klein, Ltd. stay current on the Illinois law and the decisions of our Courts. We will explain the law, take the time to answer calls, and fight for your rights.  With over 70 years of combined experience, our lawyers can provide you with the representation you need.