S&C Electric Company v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission 

By: Susana Kim - Associate - Nyhan, Bambrick, Kinzie & Lowry

 

Case Synopsis:
Claimant did not identify or provide details of a specific event causing the alleged work-related injury during his first medical visit, and a witness could not recall specific facts regarding the accident.  The court noted that the inability to do so did not render a witness incredible.


Case facts: 
Claimant, a mechanical assembler, alleged injuries to his lumbar spine while lifting and pulling equipment at work on February 4, 2011.  Claimant reported the injury to a team leader and supervisor on February 15, 2011 and was then sent to see the company nurse. The nurse’s note indicated that “RN attempted to discuss causation and he states day shift [employee] had same symptoms so he feels this must be [related to] the job.  He does not have a special moment in time.  He denies prior medical history of this.”  Id. at ¶ 16.

At trial, both team leader and supervisor testified that Claimant denied that it was a work-related injury when it was first reported. Claimant testified that he did not report it as work-related because he felt threatened by the supervisor and was afraid to lose his job. Claimant’s co-worker signed an affidavit claiming that he saw Claimant injure his back in the course of employment on or about February 4, 2011.  However, the co-worker was unable to recall the particular date, time, or activity performed at the time of the accident when testifying at his deposition.  The arbitrator determined that the testimonies of Claimant and the co-worker were more credible and found that Claimant established that the February 4, 2011 accident arose out of and in the course of the employment and that his current condition of ill-being was causally related to the accident. On review, the Commission affirmed and adopted the arbitrator’s decision. The circuit court affirmed on judicial review. 

On appeal, the employer argued that Claimant’s co-worker’s testimony was not credible and that the record did not support Claimant’s allegations of a work injury as he failed to initially provide details of a specific event causing the injury. The appellate court held that the co-worker’s inability to recall specific facts did not render his testimony incredible.  The appellate court also found that the medical records did provide details of a work related injury on February 4, 2011. While Claimant did not identify or provide details of a specific event initially, he denied any prior history of low back pain, and reported in subsequent medical visits that he experienced pain due to pulling and lifting equipment at work. Furthermore, one of his doctor’s opined the injury was a direct result of the February 4, 2011 injury. Thus, the court found that the finding that Claimant sustained a compensable work-related injury was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. 


Impact on Illinois Employers:
It is noted that two Applications for Adjustment of Claim were filed. The first Application noted a traumatic injury. The second Application could be characterized as for injuries of a repetitive nature. In defense to claims for both traumatic and chronic conditions, Employers should take sufficient steps to investigate the repetitive nature of the employment. Frequently, strong initial investigation can be provided to a Section 12 examiner and provides a basis to rebut Petitioner’s testimony at both the examination and trial. Lastly, both parties should remain cognizant of the risks involved in appealing decisions including standards of review. 

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