Worker Recovers Lost Wages And 4-year College Degree ($282,000)

An apprentice electrician was awarded retroactive disability pay and medical expenses totaling over $282,000.00 (minus $50,000.00 paid by his auto insurance) after suffering career-ending injuries, which resulted from an automobile accident.

The Case

The apprentice electrician was involved in an automobile accident while driving home from work in September 1998. His car was totaled.

In-Depth Look

The arbitrator acknowledged his loss of earning potential had he been able to complete his requirements and obtain his journeyman’s license.

His employer’s worker’s compensation provider had gone bankrupt and no new coverage had been obtained. Further, despite documented pay for travel time to pick up and return tools between the two sites, his employer denied that the accident occurred in the course of his employment. The electrician’s case hinged on proving the relationship between the accident and his work, which would afford him benefits under the Illinois Worker’s Compensation Act.

Seven years later, before an arbitrator for the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, witnesses for the Respondent, US Electric, testified that the electrician was on his way home at the time of the accident and not conducting work-related activities. The defense attorneys reasoned that Plaintiff was not due benefits for lost pay and disability, necessary medical care, or job training to support his young family.

The electrician’s attorney, Partner Mitch Horwitz, who oversees the Workers’ Compensation department for the law firm Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates, Ltd, produced evidence to the contrary.

Central to this case was a work order authorization for equipment, which both the Petitioner, the electrician, and a witness for US Electric, the Petitioner’s foreman, had written by hand.

Handwriting samples produced by Horwitz proved that the testimony of the foreman was dishonest. The foreman’s perjured testimony revealed an attempt to conceal the fact that the City of Naperville had been wrongly charged for time in which the foreman had claimed that he had been fulfilling the duties being carried out. He alleged that the electrician had been picking up and returning of tools from Joliet and billing for two hours on the job site daily, which was also a fabrication.

As the Respondent’s case continued to unravel in the wake of other distortions, so too did their reasoning for denial of benefits for extensive medical treatment received, including eventual lumbar surgery, spinal fusion, and the implementation of a spinal cord stimulator for pain control. Years of medical documentation provided by Horwitz clearly outlined the petitioner’s declining health, inability to work in his chosen trade and unbearable pain, all of which were attributed, based on the testimony of treating physicians and surgeons, to the accident.

The arbitrator agreed with the evidence and awarded retroactive disability pay and medical expenses, totaling over $282,000 (minus $50,000 paid by his auto insurance).

Key to the overall ruling of the arbitrator was the sincere attempts of the electrician to return to work as an electrician debilitating consequences. When disability and necessary surgeries rendered him incapable of fulfilling his hours and reach his goal of earning his journeyman’s license, he chose to pursue a college degree and become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

The arbitrator acknowledged the loss of earning potential, citing that, had he been able to complete his requirements, he would have obtained his journeyman’s license.

Absent any adequate offering or recommendation by the Respondent regarding rehabilitative job training, the arbitrator issued a rare, but just decision that would allow for potential earnings equal that of lost wages as a journeyman electrician.

The injured worker had enlisted the help of a comprehensive vocational rehabilitation program on his own. Supported by college transcripts that reinforced his ability and desire to obtain his bachelor’s degree and pursue a new career as a CPA, the arbitrator agreed with the rehabilitation coordinator and ordered payment by the Respondent of all costs involved with the electrician’s four-year college education and CPA licensing, including the costs of his coordinator’s services through the completion of this endeavor. Accrued college expenses as of 6/06 exceeded $27,000.

“Forcing our client into a sedentary, low-paying job with payment of a wage differential was ‘penny wise and pound foolish” according to the arbitrator,” Horwitz stated. He added, “We’re very happy that the arbitrator recognized the years of unjust circumstances and treatment of our client, and also gave him the opportunity to create a new and rewarding career.”