Illinois Court Holds Shoulder Injury Does Not Constitute Scheduled Loss to Injured Arm

An important Illinois workers’ compensation decision was handed down by the Appellate Court of Illinois, Third District, at the end of 2011. At issue in Will County Forest Preserve District v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, No. 3–11–0077WC, was whether a claimant’s shoulder injury qualified as a scheduled loss to the arm or a person-as-a-whole award.

In this case, the claimant was injured at work as he was trying to lift the tailgate of a trailer and as he did so, he felt a strong, burning pain in his right shoulder. Following an MRI he was diagnosed with a a partial thickness rotator cuff tear of the right shoulder with a possible posterior inferior labral tear. He underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair the injury.

Following a hearing, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission concluded that the claimant was entitled to benefits under section 8(d)2 on the grounds that his injury rendered him partially incapacitated. He disagreed with this decision, alleging that should have been awarded claimant benefits for a scheduled loss to the right arm pursuant to section 8(e)(10) of the Act.

In reaching its decision, the Court first examined his injury to determine if he had sustained an injury to his arm or to his shoulder:

The word “arm” is defined as “the segment of the upper limb between the shoulder and the elbow; commonly used to mean the whole superior limb.” (Emphasis added.) Stedman’s Medical Dictionary 127 (27th ed.2000); see also Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 118 (2002) (defining “arm” as “a human upper limb * * * the part of an arm between the shoulder and the wrist”). This definition clearly indicates that the shoulder is not part of the arm…Here, the evidence clearly establishes an injury to the shoulder, not to the arm.

After deciding that injury was to his shoulder, the Court then concluded that the Commission correctly determined that because his injury did not qualify as a disfigurement under the Act, the “person-as-a-whole” reward applied to his situation:

Since claimant’s shoulder injury does not qualify as a scheduled loss to the arm, we turn to other provisions of the Act for guidance. We find applicable the first subpart of section 8(d)2. That provision provides for a person-as-a-whole award where the claimant sustains serious and permanent injuries not covered by section 8(c) or 8(e) of the Act. In this case, there is no evidence that claimant suffered disfigurement as required for an award under section 8(c) of the Act (820 ILCS 305/8(c) (West 2008)). In addition, as set forth above, the injury to claimant’s right shoulder does not qualify as a scheduled loss to the arm under section 8(e)(10). As such, we hold that benefits are proper under the first subpart of section 8(d)2, and not, as the Commission concluded, under the third subpart of section 8(d)2.

Thus, contrary to this injured worker’s claims, because his injury was to his shoulder rather than to his arm, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Committee’s decision that he was entitled to benefits for his partial incapacitation rather than an incorrectly alleged scheduled loss to his arm was correct. At least, that’s the case according to the the Appellate Court of Illinois, Third District. Perhaps, in the future, another District will reach a contrary decision on this issue.

The Ankin Law Office LLC (www.ankinlaw.com) handles workers’ compensation and personal injury cases. You can reach the firm by calling (312) 600-0000.