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An appellate court in Illinois on Monday denied additional workers compensation-related disability benefits to an injured beverage distributor whom it claims did not seek job rehabilitation services in light of his diminished abilities stemming from a back injury that aggravated a degenerative condition.
John Bohentin had been working in the beverage distribution business for over 30 years and for North Aurora, Illinois-based Euclid Beverage LLC at the time he injured his back while stocking a cooler at a grocery store in 2011, an injury that led to multiple doctors diagnosing and treating for an injury they testified aggravated a condition common with age, according to documents in Euclid Beverage v. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission et al. (John Bohentin, appellant), filed in the Appellate Court of Illinois’ 2nd District Workers’ Compensation Commission Division in Elgin.
In 2011 Euclid terminated his employment because he could not be accommodated with light duty. Yet less than three months later, a manager at Euclid offered him a position in the warehouse, managing people. He declined to interview for the job, which the hiring manager had testified did not rely on physical ability.
Two months later, in 2012, a doctor released him to work with restrictions: not lifting more than 15 pounds and alternating between sitting and standing. Mr. Bohentin subsequently filed for benefits related to his injury, which the employer deemed compensable, records state.
An arbitrator in 2016 reviewed Mr. Bohentin’s case and found him to be eligible for several benefits including temporary total disability from 2011 to 2012, maintenance benefits from 2012 to 2015, intending to help supplement his income while he sought employment or training per Illinois code, and permanent partial disability of $434 per week from 2015 through the duration of his disability.
Euclid subsequently filed for a review before the state Workers’ Compensation Commission, which adopted the arbitrator’s award in part — a temporary total disability credit of $713 per week for 22 weeks and maintenance of $714 for 167 weeks — but modified the permanent partial disability award to a “percentage of person as a whole award,” limited to $643 per week for 200 weeks for 40% loss of the man as a whole.
In 2017, Euclid filed for review to the DuPage County Circuit Court, which affirmed the disability benefits ruling but overturned the award for maintenance benefits, “finding that the record did not demonstrate that the claimant participated in a vocational rehabilitation program or (a) self-directed job search” between 2012 and 2015. Mr. Bohentin appealed.
Monday’s ruling fell in line with that of the circuit court, arguing that state law only mandates that an employer pay maintenance benefits if an injured worker was or is enrolled in a vocational rehabilitation program.
“The claimant never sought or gained employment following termination from Euclid,” the ruling states. “As such, rehabilitation would be neither mandatory nor appropriate because the claimant did not show an intention to return to work, although he was capable.”
Neither Officials at Euclid Beverage nor the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission could immediately be reached for comment.
Nevada lawmakers are now considering a bill that would put the onus on employers to prove a work injury is not compensable, instead of existing law that put the responsibility at the hands of an injured party who has to prove the injury arose within the scope of employment.