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Illinois Appellate Court Accepts IML’s Amicus Brief

Labor & Employment
Illinois Appellate Court
Simpson v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, 2017 IL App (3d) 160024WC (April 18, 2017).

Overview
Simpson, a retired firefighter from Peoria, appealed the decision of the circuit court which confirmed the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Commission (Commission) denying him benefits under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act (Act).  The appellate court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court and also granted the Illinois Municipal League’s motion for leave to intervene as amicus curiae on behalf of Peoria (brief available here).

Summary
Simpson suffered a heart attack while at home.  He had been a firefighter for Peoria for 22 years, the last third of which he served in an administrative capacity. He filed for benefits under the Act and was awarded permanent partial disability benefits.  Peoria sought review before the Commission, which found that Peoria successfully rebutted the presumption that Simpson’s heart attack was causally related to his employment as a firefighter under section 6(f) of the Act. The Commission found that Simpson’s claim was not compensable and he sought review before the circuit court, which affirmed.   

The appellate court first addressed the issue of whether the Commission properly applied the rebuttable presumption found in section 6(f) of the Act.  Section 6(f) provides that
Any condition or impairment of health of an employee employed as a firefighter which results directly or indirectly from any heart or vascular disease or condition, or hypertension resulting in any disability . . . to the employee shall be rebuttably presumed to arise out of and in the course of the employer’s firefighting, and further, shall be rebuttably presumed to be causally connected to the hazards or exposures of the employment.  820 ILCS 305/6(f).
 
The appellate court found that Simpson’s condition was rebuttably presumed to arise out of and in the course of his firefighting. The court then had to determine the amount of evidence required to successfully rebut the presumption.  Using Johnston , it found that principles of statutory interpretation, and specifically, a review of its legislative history, is required to determine the legislature’s intent.  Johnston v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, 2017 IL App (2d) 160010WC. Using this method, the appellate court determined that the legislature intended for the employer to produce some evidence that something other than Simpson’s occupation as a firefighter caused his heart attack. 

The appellate court noted that the Commission looked to evidence offered by Simpson’s doctor that he had risk factors for heart disease that resulted in the heart attack.  Those factors, argued the Commission, constituted sufficient evidence of another cause of Simpson’s heart attack.  The appellate court found that the Commission correctly applied the rebuttable presumption as set forth in section 6(f). 

The appellate court next addressed the issue of whether the Commission’s determination that Simpson’s work as a firefighter did not cause his heart attack and underlying heart disease was against the manifest weight of the evidence.  Finding that the Commission was very specific in its decision as to its reasoning and findings regarding the evidence, the appellate court declined to disturb the Commission’s determination.

The appellate court granted the Illinois Municipal League’s motion to file an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Peoria and affirmed the judgment of the circuit court, which confirmed the Commission’s decision.


Click here to read IML’s amicus brief.