Holocker Widens the Interstate: A New Workers’ Compensation Decision Sets Forth Employer Defenses to Terminate Temporary Total Disability Benefits

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A recent Workers’ Compensation decision has outlined employer defenses to terminate temporary total disability (TTD) benefits prior to a maximum medical improvement (MMI) finding.

In Holocker v. Ill. Workers’ Comp. Comm’n, 2017 IL App (3d) 160363WC (June 16, 2017), the Appellate Court affirmed that termination of temporary total disability benefits was proper despite the petitioner’s ongoing causally related treatment. The court also affirmed that termination of benefits due to the petitioner’s discharge for cause was proper because the petitioner’s restrictions had no effect on his employment.

On September 11, 2012, the petitioner was operating a 40-ton overhead crane when a chainmail strap snapped loose and hit the petitioner in the face and chest. Petitioner returned to light duty work in October 2012. In May 2013, the petitioner was reassigned to his former job and was required to operate a crane on two or three occasions. The petitioner experienced an anxiety attack in July 2013 while operating a crane. He sought treatment following the anxiety attack and the petitioner’s physician recommended that the petitioner avoid cranes at work. Respondent’s examining physician agreed with the restriction that he not operate a crane for six months.

The petitioner continued to work as a transportation operator without the requirement of operating cranes. The petitioner failed to present to work from October 9-11, 2013. Per the collective bargaining agreement, failure to call in or report for work for three consecutive days is grounds for termination, and the petitioner was terminated on October 15, 2013. The employer thereafter terminated TTD benefits. As of the TTD termination date, the petitioner remained in treatment for anxiety and was still restricted from crane operation. The petitioner argued that TTD benefits should have continued after his termination and through his placement at MMI. The petitioner relied on Interstate Scaffolding, an established case that held an employer cannot terminate TTD benefits until an employee’s work-related condition has stabilized.

The Commission agreed with the petitioner that it was clear his condition had not stabilized per the Interstate Scaffolding standard. However, the Commission distinguished Holocker from Interstate Scaffolding and found that the petitioner was not entitled to TTD following his termination because he failed to show that the injury diminished his earning capacity. The petitioner failed to show that his restrictions impaired his ability to return to work or that he was unable to obtain employment following his termination. The Commission found that there was no evidence that the petitioner was unable to return to work and agreed with Respondent’s vocational rehabilitation counselor, who found that the petitioner did not have a diminished earning capacity.

Holocker is a useful case that may help dispute TTD benefits when the employee has been terminated prior to reaching MMI. Holocker provides additional defenses to Interstate Scaffolding’s requirement that the petitioner’s condition be stabilized and shifts the burden back on the terminated petitioner to show that he or she has both not reached MMI and that the work-related injury has an impact on his or her employment.

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