03 May 2024

The Illinois’ Appellate Court recently addressed an uncommon issue, invoking the law of the case doctrine to resolve a claimant’s request for additional benefits under the IWCA.  In Walter Kohut v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, et. al, the Court investigated the issue of a claimant requesting additional benefits via section 8(a) and 19(h) petitions under the Act. 2024 IL App (1st) 230993WC-U.  

Petitioner alleged injuries to his neck, back, knee, ankle, and shoulder relating to an accident sustained while employed as a restaurant cook. He claimed that he slipped and fell while performing his duties in August 2008. He underwent treatment for his shoulder, and had an Independent Medical Evaluation (IME) in January 2010. In December 2013 he sought treatment for a labral tear. The IME Physician opined that this tear was new and not causally connected to the work injury.  

At arbitration, the arbitrator found that the claimant’s shoulder condition was partially causally related to the work injury, but that the labral tear was not. The arbitrator awarded 40% loss of use of the arm. The Commission affirmed but modified the award to 20.25% loss of use of the “man as a whole.” This was affirmed by the circuit court and the appellate court. Claimant then filed a petition for additional medical treatment to his shoulder in 2018, and an increase in his disability.  

During the initial hearing, the claimant wore a sling on his arm, testifying that his shoulder condition had been progressively worsening and he continued to seek treatment for it.  He testified similarly at his second evidentiary hearing.  

Claimant then took the evidence deposition of his treating physician, along with a vocational expert. The doctor opined that the claimant’s current condition was related to his August 2008 work accident. The vocational expert testified at the petitioner’s social security disability hearing, stating that the claimant would not be able to find work because of his disabilities. The Commission denied both petitions.  

The Appellate Court affirmed the Commission’s decision, noting that the claimant’s petitions were, in fact, barred under the law of the case doctrine because the Commission had already found that petitioner’s labral tear was unrelated to his work accident. Despite petitioner’s arguments that the Commission erred as a matter of law, the Court noted that under the law of the case doctrine, a court’s unreversed decision on an issue that has been litigated and decided settles the question for all subsequent stages of the action. Because the doctor testified that the claimant’s current condition was a result of the labral tear that the Commission had already decided was not a result of the work accident, petitioner’s requests for additional benefits were barred as that finding was the law of the case.  

Despite its relatively seldom invocation, this decision illustrates why it is important for practitioners and claims representatives to be mindful of the law of the case doctrine when considering recently litigated issues. Should a claimant seek to obtain additional benefits, it may be a powerful tool in the defense of the claim.