United Airlines Pilot Loses Workers’ Compensation Claim Due to Procedural Misstep

airline pilotAn airline pilot who suffered a serious neck injury lost her workers’ compensation claim because, according to an Appellate Court ruling, her pursuit of her case did not comply with the time limitation rules imposed by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission’s regulations. This pilot’s loss should serve as a clear instruction to all workers injured on the job to take prompt action and retain experienced counsel to ensure that limitations periods and procedural rules do not defeat their cases.

This case involved a pilot for United Airlines, Inc. who was injured on the job. The pilot was working on a flight in 2003 when the flight experienced mid-air turbulence, and that turbulence caused the pilot to suffer a neck injury. When it comes to extreme turbulence, the majority of people who suffer injuries in these situations are, according to FAA statistics, airline employees like flight attendants and pilots. In this case, the pilot’s injuries were substantial enough that she eventually underwent a surgery fusing her C5-6 and C6-7 vertebrae.

The pilot filed a claim for worker’s compensation benefits in 2008. Three years later, an arbitrator dismissed the case due to the pilot’s “want of prosecution.” The pilot did not challenge this dismissal. She did, however, file a new claim for workers’ compensation benefits, in 2012, for the same injury.

The airline sought a dismissal of this new claim. It argued that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations. It also argued that the previous dismissal became a final judgment after the pilot did not contest that ruling by filing a petition to reinstate that claim. The pilot, on the other hand, argued that the new claim was timely, since Illinois law allowed workers to file new claims within one year of a dismissal for want of prosecution.

The arbitrator, the Commission, and the Circuit Court all sided with the employer. Those bodies all agreed that the statutory code section that the pilot cited, 735 ILCS 5/13-217, did not apply to workers’ compensation cases, and the rules specifically governing workers’ compensation cases dictated a result in favor of the employer, due to the statute of limitations.

The pilot appealed, but she again lost. Under the terms of Illinois’ Workers’ Compensation Act, the legislature gave the Commission the authority to institute its own procedural rules when it comes to workers’ comp cases. Neither the Workers’ Compensation Act nor the Commission’s rules ever adopted Section 13-217’s “one year after dismissal for want of prosecution” standard. Instead, the Commission created Commission Rule 9020.90, which said that a worker whose workers’ compensation case had been dismissed for want of prosecution has 60 days to file a petition for reinstatement of the claim and to state the reasons for the dismissal along with the reasons why the case should be revived. If a worker fails to take this action and do so within 60 days, the dismissal for want of prosecution becomes a final judgment.

That’s what happened in this case, which was the reason that the appeals court upheld the ruling against the employee.

Working as an airline pilot or flight attendant can be dangerous work. If you’ve been injured at work, whether you’re an airline employee or in any other line of work, it is important to understand your rights and your obligations. Depending on the nature of your case, you may have the right to pursue workers’ compensation benefits, or you may have the right to file a civil lawsuit. In either scenario, you have the obligation to act within the procedural time limits imposed by the relevant statutes and regulations.

To make sure you are acting in a timely manner to protect your rights, work with experienced counsel. The knowledgeable Chicago workers’ compensation attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein, Johnson & Bareck have been representing injured airline employees and other workers for many years. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Internationally Domiciled United Airline Flight Attendants Should Not Fear Filing Illinois Occupational Injury Claims, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, Jan. 23, 2017

Back Injuries An Increasing Concern For Airlines, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, Aug. 11, 2016