Who Can Recover PPD after an injured worker Dies?

The Fourth District Appellate Court recently addressed the issue of who can obtain a PPD award when a case is litigated after the petitioner passes away. In Bell v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, 2015 IL App (4th) 140028WC, Ms. Nash, the injured employee and original claimant, reached MMI for her work-related injury on August 27, 2008 and died of causes unrelated to her work-related injuries on August 19, 2010.  Ms. Bell, the injured worker’s sister, became the administrator of Ms. Nash’s estate and substituted herself as the claimant.  Ms. Nash had no surviving spouse or dependants.

The arbitration hearing took place on June 25, 2012 and the Arbitrator found that, while Ms. Nash has experienced a permanent partial disability as a result of her accident, the language of the Act only allowed a deceased employee’s spouse or eligible dependent to recover an award for PPD benefits.  Since Ms. Nash had no dependents, the Arbitrator found that Ms. Nash’s estate was not entitled to an award for PPD benefits.

The Commission unanimously affirmed and adopted the Arbitrator’s decision and the Circuit Court of Coles County then confirmed the Commission’s decision.  The Fourth District Appellate Court, however, reversed and remanded.  The Court first ruled that the Sections 8(e)(19) and 8(h) of the Act only specified who benefits should be paid to when an injured worker dies, and was not intended to limit beneficiaries of a workers’ compensation claim to only surviving spouses and dependents.

The Court further found that, while an injured employee’s death extinguishes any right to recovery for payments due after the employee’s death, the decedent’s estate is entitled to payments accrued up to the date of the death of the injured worker.  The Court also found that PPD benefits in this case had accrued prior to Ms. Nash’s death and were “payable, due, and owing.” Id.  “[The estate] does not seek future installment payments that would have accrued and become payable to Ms. Nash on some future date had she survived.”  Id.  The Court reasoned that PPD benefits serve as compensation for a diminishment of earning capacity; due to the fact that they share this trait with TTD, the Court decided that PPD benefits that accrued while a claimant was alive are payable to the estate.

The Court also provided a policy reason for their decision, explaining that if they were to rule otherwise that employers would then have an incentive to litigate and delay cases indefinitely until an injured worker dies.

The Court’s ruling in this case indicates that an injured worker’s estate can always obtain the benefits that accrued for a injured worker before their death, regardless of who the estate will ultimately pay those benefits out to.

Thanks to attorney Michael Bantz for the excellent summary and stay tuned to the I&F blog for ongoing updates on the evolving state of Illinois Workers’ Compensation, and feel free to contact us if you have any questions on this or any other Workers’ Compensation issues!

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