Illinois Supreme Court Allows Mailbox Rule in Workers’ Compensation Case

The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the “mailbox rule” as it applies to workers’ compensation cases. The court held that the petitioner’s appeal to the circuit court was timely filed because it was postmarked by the filing deadline.

Justice Robert R. Thomas, writing for the majority in the 5-2 decision, said that upholding the rule in such cases would bring “harmony and consistency” to the process of review in workers’ compensation cases, because the rule is presumed at other stages of an appeal.

The court also noted that the Illinois General Assembly has specified when the rule is not applicable and in state courts the modern trend is to allow the mailbox rule, essentially equating time of mailing with time of filing.

The decision overturned a ruling by the Workers’ Compensation Commission Division of the Illinois Appellate Court.

The case stems from a lower back injury that a worker received while pulling pins from the ground as part of roadwork for a construction contractor. The worker’s initial claim was denied by an arbitrator, and that decision was upheld by McHenry County Associate Judge Thomas A. Meyer.

The worker’s circuit court filings were received on May 14, 2009, four days after the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act’s statutory deadline for “commencing” an appeal.

The high court said that the question was whether a proceeding is begun when the appropriate filings are placed in the mailbox or when they are file-stamped by the court clerk. The court observed that appeals to the commission and to the appellate court follow the mailbox rule, and the same rule should apply at every stage of review. The court also said that the legislature is aware that courts have construed statutes as including the mailbox rule and they have precluded it only in the case of certain documents filed under the Election Code.

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