ALL Workers’ Compensation (WC) Practicing Attorneys be AWARE!

The Third Dist. IL Appellate court decision, Armstead v. National Freight, Inc.(2020 IL App (3d) 170777), may have significant ramifications for Workers' Compensation (WC)practitioners (and Pro Se claimants) because the court held that plaintiff’s personal injury (3rd party) claim was barred by collateral estoppel based on the description of the injuries in the Pennsylvania WC settlement contract. Here, the plaintiff agreed that his injury was a “right knee strain” and did not list all other claimed injuries that he may claim in the Personal Injury case. To my understanding, the plaintiff in this case is filing a petition for leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, but if this decision is left to stand, this could have catastrophic results to unsuspecting plaintiffs, who are pursuing a 3rdparty case, as well to WC respondents, who would be pursuing their Section 5(b) lien rights all based on language loosely chosen in the WC settlement contract by the drafter of the contract.

As an experienced Illinois WC practitioner, I can attest that there are tens of thousands of settlement contracts approved annually by the IWCC and the parties who draft the contracts, use the limited spaces on the contract to give administrational information of the case (who are the parties, what happened, where, body parts, and injuries) and the things that are disputed and agreed to by the parties are listed in the terms of settlement section on the contract (the percentage of the body part involved, who is required to pay medical bills, TTD that may be at issue, etc.). Note in 2020, the IWCC moved the settlement process online via Compfile and there are limited spaces for information in the contract. More pointedly, the parties do not always agree on the body parts that were affected or the nature of the injury so this decision now makes filling out routine settlement contracts much more burdensome for practitioners to list each and every specific injury whether accepted or disputed. It will also encourage practitioners to “overkill” when attaching a medical report to the settlement contract or to include broader language like “including, but not limited to…”.

The Supreme Court should take this case and weigh the consequences of this decision on the practice.



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