SMOKERS BEWARE: WORKERS COMPENSATION COMMISSION RULES AGAINST AWARDING BENEFITS TO A SMOKER WHO REFUSED TO QUIT SMOKING
In a recent decision by the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission Schoonover vs. Porta Community School District #202, 2015WL5769434, the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission found that the Petitioner had maximum medical improvement because she refused to stop smoking or make significate and consistent attempts to quit smoking despite the fact that her treating surgeon recommended surgery. The treating surgeon indicated that the Petitioner need a lumber fusion and the surgeon would not perform that surgery unless the Petitioner quit smoking. The Petitioner indicated that she told her surgeon that she did in fact make efforts to stop smoking but the facts revealed that she failed to cut back on her smoking.
The Workers Compensation Commission agreed with the Respondent that they did not have to pay any more workers compensation benefits because the Petitioner did not make the necessary efforts to quit smoking and undergo the surgery. Thus they determined that she was at maximum medical improvement and cut off her benefits.
This appears to be a harsh result for smokers who are injured at work and are unable to kick the habit. This decision now highlights the trend in Illinois workers compensation law to deny and/or restrict benefits to injured Illinois workers.
The Illinois Workers Compensation Commission annual report reveals that between the years of 2011 and 2015, Illinois workers compensation insurance reported a 19% decrease in benefits payments to injured workers. It should be noted that in 2011, the Illinois legislature made significant amendments to the Illinois Workers Compensation Act, restricting the benefits of injured workers.