Weekly Compensation Benefits for Life
The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the dismissal of an appeal by Northern Petrochemical Co., a subsidiary of Enron Corporation, challenging an award of weekly compensation benefits for life to a former resident of LaSalle County, Illinois who suffers from an occupational disease caused by workplace exposure to toxic chemicals.
- The Case
Douglas Fifer, formerly of Marseilles, Illinois, was exposed to toxic chemicals while employed by Northern Petrochemical in Morris, Illinois.
- In Depth Look
Based on medical evidence, the Illinois Industrial Commission found that Fifer’s chemical exposure compromised his immune system, rendering him wholly and permanently disabled. The Commission awarded Fifer weekly wages for total permanent disability under the Illinois Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act. Fifer’s weekly benefit is based upon two-thirds of his weekly wage at the time of his chemical exposure. Northern Petrochemical appealed the compensation award to the Circuit Court of Will County, but Judge Herman Haase dismissed the appeal.
Northern Petrochemical filed an appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court. The Court received legal briefs and heard oral arguments by attorneys representing Northern Petrochemical and Fifer. The Appellate Court issued an order affirming the lower court’s dismissal of Northern Petrochemical’s appeal. The court denied Northern Petrochemical’s petition for rehearing. The Court also denied a request by Northern Petrochemical for leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, causing the award of lifetime benefits to become final and enforceable.
Attorney Marc A. Perper of the Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates, Ltd. represented Fifer.
“Every single doctor who treated Mr. Fifer agreed that his immune suppression was caused by toxic chemical exposure in the workplace,” said Perper. “His blood work revealed a diminished T-cell helper/suppressor ratio, which constitutes evidence of immune suppression. Research at the National Institutes of Health has documented a clear relationship between immune suppression and contact with petroleum distillates such as those to which Mr. Fifer was exposed,” Perper explained.
According to Perper, “Northern Pet hired its own medical expert – a toxicologist who does a great deal of consulting work and lobbying on behalf of the chemical industry. He claimed that Mr. Fifer is not immune-suppressed, and he denied that the chemicals Mr. Fifer was exposed to could even cause immune suppression. However, this “expert” never even examined Mr. Fifer, and he never once commented on the medical literature from NIH. It was for those reasons that the Industrial Commission rejected the opinion of Northern Pet’s hired expert, and instead relied on the testimony of the treating physician.”
Perper explained that compensation to Fifer for his occupational disease, while important, is only one of two goals of the legal case. “Monetary compensation for those who become ill or injured due to their work activities is a vital purpose of our workers’ compensation laws,” said Perper. “But a second, equally important purpose of the law is to encourage every employer to make its workplace safe. In this case, Mr. Fifer was not the only Northern Petrochemical employee who became ill after being exposed to toxic chemicals. By bringing this claim, we hoped to encourage Northern Pet and Enron to create a safer workplace for all of their employees, so nobody else ever gets poisoned there.”
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