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Flower shop work doesn't preclude disability benefits for Illinois nurse: Court

Flower shop work doesn't preclude disability benefits for Illinois nurse: Court

Helping her daughters at their family-run flower shop doesn't constitute returning to work for an Illinois nurse who was injured on the job, nor does it preclude her from receiving temporary total disability workers compensation benefits, the Illinois Appellate Court has ruled.

Dalia Mahoney-Tapella was working as a licensed practical nurse at Sunny Hill Nursing Home of Will County in Joliet, Illinois, in December 2008 when she injured her right shoulder and lower back lowering an obese patient from a patient lift, court records show.

Ms. Mahoney-Tapella was awarded TTD benefits for three periods of time between December 2008 and June 2011, and Sunny Hill terminated her employment in September 2010 because she had been off work for more than one year, records show.

In February 2011, Ms. Mahoney-Tapella underwent arthroscopic surgery on her shoulder and was not yet cleared to return to work at the time of a June 2011 arbitration hearing.

Meanwhile, prior to her injury in 2007, she had opened a flower shop with her two daughters following the death of her husband and son, according to records. She owns a majority stake in the business, but her daughters run it full time, records show.

Despite visiting the flower shop three days each week since getting injured at work in 2008, Ms. Mahoney-Tapella said she is not formally employed, she doesn't collect a paycheck, and she doesn't follow a regular schedule. When at the flower shop, Ms. Mahoney-Tapella said she answers the phone, picks up faxes, helps her daughters prepare flower arrangements and babysits her grandchildren. She testified that she doesn't do anything more physically taxing at the flower shop than she would do at home, records show.

According to court records, an arbitrator said in June 2011 “it is apparent that (Ms. Mahoney-Tapella's) partial ownership interest in a local flower shop that is operated on a day-to-day basis by her daughters does not constitute a 'return to work' in the sense of disqualifying her from receipt of TTD benefits.”

The Illinois Workers Compensation Commission adopted the arbitrator's decision, and the Will County Circuit Court confirmed the commission's decision in December 2012, which led Sunny Hill to appeal, records show. Sunny Hill argued, among other things, that the commission failed to apply a “stable labor market” test.

On Thursday, the Illinois Appellate Court's 3rd District unanimously affirmed the Circuit Court's judgment that Ms. Mahoney-Tapella's work at her family's flower shop doesn't constitute returning to work or preclude Sunny Hill from paying her temporary total disability benefits.

“In determining TTD benefits in this case, the Commission's focus was properly directed to whether claimant's condition had stabilized and she had reached (maximum medical improvement), and not whether she was working in a 'stable labor market,'” the ruling states. “Claimant's presence at the flower shop, and whether it constituted a 'return to work,' was but one factor for the commission to consider in its analysis.”

The case was remanded for further proceedings.