Court ends decade-long battle between Zepeda Construction and Workers’ Comp

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The Illinois Appellate Court recently affirmed a decision from the Circuit Court of Cook County to deny Zepeda Construction Services’ petition to modify an award for permanent and total disability from claimant and former Zepeda employee Danial Britzke.

The court also denied Zepeda’s appeal of the circuit court’s order confirming the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission’s award of attorney fees to the claimant.

The ruling ended the 10-plus year legal battle between the construction company and the commission.

Britzke was employed by Zepeda as a commercial driver and equipment operator and was injured in July of 2000 on the job. An arbitration hearing held in June of 2004 concluded that the claimant was permanently incapable of work based on the injuries that had been sustained in addition to prevailing post-traumatic stress disorder.

The arbitrator also awarded the claimant permanent PTD benefits pursuant to the Workers’ Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 2002)) for life beginning on September 5, 2003.

Zepeda requested a neuropsychologist examination of Britzke in August of 2005 and found the he had a “strong tendency for symptom exaggeration” according to court documents. An orthopedic examination was subsequently conducted on Britzke in September of 2005 at the request of Zepeda that found him “presently capable” of returning to work at a light-medium level.

The commission affirmed and adopted the arbitrator’s decision in January of 2006, which prompted Zepeda to file a petition for judicial review of the commission’s decision in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

The circuit court confirmed the commission’s decision.

Additional examinations were conducted on Britzke in 2007 that had varied conclusions. Some physicians deemed him fit to work others did not.

The commission denied another petition filed by Zepeda in October of 2010 and granted Britzke’s petition for medical expenses and attorney fees.

The commission awarded the claimant $1,220.00 in medical expenses and $9,449.26 in attorney costs and fees.

“I know that doesn’t sound like a lot of money but it’s the principle of the matter and it’s consistency and our fear for what this means for cases down the road,” Brad Elward, the attorney representing Zepeda said.

Zepeda filed an appeal to the circuit court’s decision on June 10, 2013 where Judge Margaret Ann Brennan found that Zepeda failed to meet its burden in that it did not present any credible evidence that the claimant’s psychological condition had been improved.

Brennan affirmed the judgment of the circuit court which confirmed the decision of the commission denying Zepeda’s section 8(f) and 19(h) petitions and awarding the claimant section 16 attorney fees and costs.

The commission is a no-fault system of benefits paid by employers to workers who experience job-related injuries or diseases.  It operates the state court system for workers’ compensation cases. An arbitrator whose decision may be reviewed by a panel of three commissioners first tries a case.

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