Illinois Workers' Comp: Are Petitioners Required to Submit AMA Impairment Rating Reports Into Evidence?
The use of AMA impairment ratings to establish permanent partial disability was introduced in Illinois as a part of the 2011 workers’ compensation reforms. The statute provided in part that "[f]or accidental injuries that occur on or after September 1, 2011, permanent partial disability shall be established using the following criteria; (a) A physician licensed to practice medicine in all of its branches preparing a permanent partial disability impairment report shall report the level of impairment in writing." 820 ILCS 305/8.1b(a). The defense bar has argued the use of the term "shall" in Section 8.1b places an affirmative burden on the claimant to admit an AMA impairment rating report into evidence as a necessary element of their case-in-chief. In the absence of such a report, a claimant would be barred from recovering permanency.
In Continental Tire of the Americas, LLC v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, 2015 IL App (5th) 140445WC, the Appellate Court, Workers’ Compensation Commission Division, held that the Commission is not required to follow a respondent’s AMA impairment rating report even where the claimant fails to place into evidence a contradictory or opposing report. The appellate court explained that the AMA impairment rating was but one factor that the Commission should consider in establishing the claimant’s permanent partial disability.
Since an AMA report was submitted by the employer, the court did not squarely address the issue of whether claimants are, in fact, obligated to submit an AMA impairment report into evidence under Section 8.1b. 820 ILCS 305/8.1b(a). At one point, the court stated, "[t]he statute does not require the claimant to submit a written physician’s report. It only requires that the Commission, in determining the level of the claimant’s permanent partial disability, consider a report that complies with subsection (a), regardless of which party submitted it." Continental Tire, 2015 IL App (5th) 140445WC, ¶ 17. Yet at another location the decision says that "[s]ection 8.1b(a) requires a licensed physician to prepare a permanent partial disability report setting out the level of the claimant’s impairment in writing." Id. ¶ 10.
Notwithstanding, during oral arguments, one Justice commented, "If your argument was there was no report at all, you would have an argument" (oral argument recording at 3:57). Even the claimant’s counsel appeared to acknowledge during oral arguments that submission of an AMA report is required. When asked why the petitioner would want to put an AMA report into evidence if it had a zero impairment rating, petitioner’s counsel responded, "[b]ecause it’s required by the statute that it be there" (oral argument recording at 24:51).