GWC attorney James E. Babcock recently published an article on the impact of a sua sponte exclusion of evidence on a workers’ compensation claim.
Occupational Exposure Claim Denied
Mr. Babcock is currently serving his second term on the Illinois State Bar Association’s Workers’ Compensation Law Section Council. His duties include taking part in Council subcommittees, assisting with the development of Continuing Legal Education programs, and writing articles for Workers Compensation Law, the Council’s newsletter.
Mr. Babcock’s latest article, “Cummings v. IWCC and Sua Sponte Exclusion of Evidence,” appeared in the newsletter’s November 2022 issue. In it, he discusses an occupational exposure claim denial that an appeals court remanded to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC) for further consideration.
The denial came after a hearing that included the admission into evidence of hospital records “wherein 26 pages were certified but 109 pages were not.” At the time, the respondent did not object to admitting the entire hospital chart, including the uncertified pages.
Nevertheless, after the close of proofs, the arbitrator decided to only consider the 26 certified pages of records and disregard the uncertified ones. He then denied benefits to the petitioner, finding the respondent’s expert more convincing.
“Inexplicable” And “Mind-Boggling” Exclusion
When the IWCC affirmed the arbitrator’s denial of benefits, one commissioner dissented, describing the exclusion of the medical records to which the respondent never objected as “inexplicable” and “mind-boggling.”
In appealing the decision in Cummings v. IWCC, workers’ compensation attorneys for the petitioner did not directly challenge the finding that the respondent’s expert was more credible.
“Instead, the petitioner argued that the credibility assessment must be made in the context of all the admissible evidence,” wrote Mr. Babcock. “To do otherwise would result in a manifest weight of evidence analysis.”
Sua Sponte Objection Unfair To Petitioner
The appeals court remanded the decision for further consideration, holding that evidence is admissible if the opposing party does not object to it and should “be considered and given its natural probative effect” once it is admitted.
By dismissing the uncertified records without any objections or prompting from the parties involved, the court found that the arbitrator raised a foundational objection “sua sponte” – “of one’s own accord” or “voluntarily” – after the conclusion of the hearing.
Introducing a sua sponte objection at the end of the proceedings “unfairly precluded the petitioner from either explaining or curing the foundation issue,” Mr. Babcock explained. “In remanding the matter, the court noted that although the Commission found the respondent’s expert more credible, the exclusion of 109 pages of records must be considered in weighing the respective experts’ credibility.”
Getting Clients The Justice They Deserve
Best practice by knowledgeable attorneys is to have complete charts certified prior to the hearing. Time is money and money is time. Although this arbitrator erred, he would never have been given the opportunity to commit reversible error had the entire chart been certified, avoiding years of appeals on a foundational error as opposed to the merits of the claim.
As this article demonstrates, skilled legal counsel can mean the difference between having your case receive the consideration it merits and seeing it unfairly dismissed on spurious grounds. To maximize your claim value, whether by settlement or trial, contact the dedicated personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers LLC.
With more than $2 billion recovered in verdicts and settlements, GWC is one of the premier personal injury and workers’ compensation law firms in Illinois. At GWC, our trial lawyers have the experience, determination, resources, and reputation you need to help get you and your family the justice you deserve.<< BACK TO BLOG POSTS