An Eye for an Eye? A look at compensation for the loss of an eye.

Determining the appropriate amount of compensation for the loss of an eye has always been somewhat difficult.  In Gilbert & Shughart Painting v. IIC, 136 Ill.App.3d 163 (1985), the court had to decide what the extent of loss should be awarded for an eye to a claimant who lost almost complete use of his eye, but whose corrected vision was almost totally restored to normal.  The court reasoned that the permanent, uncorrectable reduction of the claimant’s near vision, and his diminished stereo vision and depth perception, provided further justification for an award of 100% of the left eye.

In a case filed nearly 10 years after that decision,  Miroslaw Dziadkowiec v. Barrett Enterprises, 06IWCC0592, the Commission awarded 100% loss of the eye despite the fact that the claimant’s corrected vision was much improved by an artificial lens and glasses.

The trend appears to be that the Commission can base its award for loss of vision on several factors including corrected vision, uncorrected vision or a hybrid of both.  So when dealing with a loss of vision claim, what evidence does the respondent put forth to mitigate its liability and permanent partial disability (PPD) exposure?

Both of these cases date back prior to the 2011 amendments to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.  The respondent can now look to Chapter 12 of “The Visual System,” AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. This chapter focuses on the pertinent eye examination and the visual acuity measurements with best correction to determine a best corrected visual acuity score for each eye.  Visual acuity is defined as the sharpness of vision, usually as measured with the use of a Snellen eye chart. 20/20 is considered normal visual acuity, although some people can see even better (such as 20/15 or 20/10).  (If you can read the bottom row of letters on the eye chart, your visual acuity is very good).

The use of the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment should be considered as allowed by the amendments to the Act in 2011. The amendments to the Act allow for the use of AMA guidelines for impairment ratings for all accidents with dates of accident on or after September 1, 2011.  It is important to note that the Act does not provide for compensation for impairment, but rather for disability.  Therefore, these guidelines should be considered as a starting point as the arbitrator must then consider all other factors including medical records, age, and occupation of the claimant to then translate the impairment rating into permanent partial disability (PPD).  Obtaining such an impairment rating to show a claimant’s best corrected visual acuity score for each eye may now lead to a lower PPD value.

Thanks to attorney Lauren Waninski for the review.

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