Fired workers' comp official still trying to get $25K for disability

News-DemocratMay 31, 2014 

AP GRAPHICS

— Fired workers' compensation hearing officer Jennifer Carril's pending $25,000 settlement for a disability primarily attributed to typing is before an appeals court, where state lawyers contend she didn't suffer lasting injury and shouldn't get the money.

Case testimony before the 4th District Appellate Court in Springfield showed that after Gov. Pat Quinn ordered her removal, Carril, formerly known as Jennifer Teague, found work training others for the very job from which she was fired. She testified that she worked part-time in a grant-funded program in 2012 to develop, "training programs for hearing officers."

Carril was dismissed in 2011 from her $115,000 per year job as an arbitrator for the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission after a series of stories in the News-Democrat concerning more than $10 million paid to prison guards who complained that turning keys and operating locks caused them to be injured.

Related articles relied on copies of emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, which showed that Carril allegedly used her position in an unsuccessful attempt to pressure state officials to speed up her own claim, commenting that she had "two mortgages" to pay. They also showed that she concealed a hearing concerning a disability application by former state Trooper Matt Mitchell, convicted of causing the highway deaths of two teenage girls, and improperly talked about pending cases. In the case about Mitchell, Carril sent an email to her clerk advising that the hearing should be "on the sly, with no press."

Some of these issues led to a two-year suspension of her law license, beginning in April 2013.

Carril could not be reached for comment. Her lawyer, James J. Wieczorek of St. Louis, also could not be reached for comment.

Court records from a March 27, 2012, hearing show:

* Carril testified, "She was capable of working full time, describing her injury and recovery as 'no hindrance whatsoever.'"

* Edward Schoenbaum, the special arbitrator assigned to rule on whether Carril suffered a 15 percent loss of her right arm and therefore was entitled to an award of $25.233, was hearing his first workers' compensation case.

* During on the record hearing testimony, Schoenbaum told Carril, "I like your management style. I appreciate hearing all about that."

The transcript showed that Carril replied, "I was quite the slave driver," to which Schoenbaum responded, "That's how you get things done."

Asked Friday if such an exchange was proper during a proceeding where taxpayer funding and proper compensation to an injured person were at stake, Schoenbaum said, "I don't think I am allowed to talk about the case." He declined further comment.

Lawyers for the Illinois Attorney General appealed Schoenbaum's award to the Sangamon County Circuit Court where, in January 2013 and after six months of proceedings, Circuit Judge John Schmidt denied the state's motion for an administrative review. The matter was referred a month later to the appellate court.

Under questioning by her attorney, Carril described lingering "discomfort" but not pain except for brief moments when her right arm was under pressure. She said that when out walking her large Labradoodle dog, the animal sometimes briefly wouldn't behave and tugged on the leash, causing her pain in her right arm for, "...a second or two."

"We failed dog school once, so if we wouldn't have failed dog school my arm would probably be doing much better," she testified.

Carril returned to her arbitrator's job two weeks after she had elbow surgery on June 28, 2010, to correct a "cubital tunnel" problem, a repetitive trauma condition similar to carpal tunnel syndrome but located in the arm. A physician later brought in by the attorney general lawyer on the case supported the original physician's diagnosis and recommendation that surgery be performed.

Carril's attorney argued that she returned to the job as part of a "good faith" effort to catch up on a backlog and worked under "duress," but was unable to stamp case orders with her official seal unless she did it with her left hand or had her mother help her.

"Defendant (Carril) made a good faith effort to return to her normal duties and continued to perform her duties under duress," Wieczorek stated in an argument to the appellate court.

"The greater weight of the medical evidence establishes the defendant's injury was severe and her medical treatment continued over a substantial time ... The extent and permanency of a claimant's disability are questions of fact ... The commission's factual determinations will not be overturned unless they are against the manifest (revealed) weight of the evidence."

But Evan Siegel, an assistant attorney general, argued in a brief to the appellate court that the very fact that Carril returned to work so soon and that her doctors cleared her for work without restriction, was proof that she did not suffer a permanent disability, a requirement for a cash award.

As for Carril's use of her left hand to stamp hearing orders, Siegel wrote, "That Teague had to resort to the use of her non-dominant hand for a brief period of some weeks is irrelevant ... Teague is an arbitrator for the commission, not an assembly line contract stamper."

The proposed cash settlement, if awarded, will include interest at 13 percent.

A clerk at the appellate court in Springfield said Friday that there is no way from looking at the record to determine when the case might be decided.

Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at gpawlaczyk@bnd.com or 618-239-2625.

Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 618-239-2570.

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