18 Mar 2024

In a recent decision, the Appellate Court addressed how inconsistent testimony and failure to seek timely medical care can affect the determination of whether a claimant can meet the burden of proof regarding whether an accident occurred.  

In Kimberly Masters v. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, et al., 2023 IL App (1st) 230984WC-U, the claimant alleged numerous bodily injuries resulting from a slip and fall while working for her employer. At arbitration, claimant testified that she began working for her employer as an airline pilot on April 25, 2005, and remained employed in that capacity until December 17, 2017. This role required her to conduct pre- and post-flight inspections of the aircraft. 

She further testified that on December 17, 2017, she conducted an aircraft inspection and, while walking around the aircraft, slipped and fell on de-icing fluid. Claimant initially testified that following this shift, she was off for the Christmas holiday; however, she admitted on cross-examination that she continued to work through December 19, 2017. She also failed to submit an injury report on the date of her alleged injury, as was required by her employer, and was not disciplined for same. She first sought medical treatment on January 5, 2018, and provided notice of the accident the same day. She was diagnosed with a nondisplaced fracture of the left patella, bursitis, and right medial epicondylitis.  

At arbitration, the arbitrator found that the claimant sustained injuries arising from and in the course of her employment and that her condition was causally related to the accident. The Commission reversed that decision, finding that claimant failed to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that her injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment because her testimony regarding the alleged accident lacked credibility. The Circuit Court affirmed, and the matter was appealed to the Appellate Court, who upheld the judgment of the Circuit Court and the decision of the Commission. 

The Appellate Court placed considerable emphasis on the deferential standards that need be applied to the Commission’s factual findings, noting that they can only be disturbed when no rational trier of fact could have agreed with the Commission. Applying this standard, the Commission’s finding that claimant failed to meet her burden of proof was found not to be against the manifest weight of the evidence.  

The Court agreed with the Commission’s consideration of the claimant’s failure to report the alleged accident or seek medical treatment for her alleged injuries for nineteen days following her fall. The Court also scrutinized the claimant’s contradictory testimony regarding whether she was off work immediately after her injury, and her claim that she could not receive medical treatment at the airport or a surrounding hospital on a Sunday. Additionally, the Commission noted it incredible that claimant could physically perform her job by traversing stairs and by inspecting each aircraft for three days with a fractured patella.  

Moreover, claimant’s testimony showed that she traveled  for the Christmas holiday in the week following her injury. The Court rejected her argument that injured workers frequently attempt to work through injuries, noting that this was inconsistent with her testimony that she did not seek medical treatment because the accident occurred on a Sunday.  

This case illustrates why it is crucial to perform a thorough investigation and assessment of the facts surrounding each accident. Further, it is important to consider the deferential standard applied to findings of fact made by the Commission in any assessment of whether a finding should be appealed. A suspicious gap in treatment after an alleged accident, combined with contradictory statements from the injured worker and implausible excuses, may form a sufficient basis for a denial and successful accident defense.