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Workers’ Compensation Case Update – Winter 2009

By Christopher S. Crawford

“Intervening Accident” Defense Narrowed

In Anduray v. Chicago Transit Authority 09 I.W.C.C. 0403, a claimant was awarded benefits for back injuries despite subsequently injuring himself while at home shoveling snow. The first work injury occurred in June of 2005 and he missed two weeks. One year later on June 6, 2006, the claimant suffered another back injury and returned to work on restricted duty in August of 2006. He indicated that his back was feeling fine when on December 1, 2006 he experienced discomfort while shoveling snow at home.

The Commission found that the snow shoveling incident did not break the causal connection chain despite claimant’s testimony that he felt no pain between his second work accident and the shoveling incident. There was sufficient evidence to show that petitioner’s condition had been weakened by the prior work injuries such that he experienced an exacerbation of the condition at home. Evidence supporting this holding included a subsequent MRI following the shoveling incident which showed no signal change when compared to a previous MRI. Further, emergency records showed that petitioner claimed his back pain following the shoveling incident was similar to the pain he experienced following the work injury. The Commission found that the exacerbation of symptoms the claimant experienced while shoveling snow was a manifestation of the work injury sustained on June 6, 2006.

This case is troubling and further narrows the defense of “intervening accident.” However, the defense is still viable and should be pursued despite this decision.

Medical Evidence Needed to Support Permanency

In Biller v. Illinois Youth Center 09 I.W.C.C. 0459 claimant injured his left knee while breaking up a fight. He described feeling some pain one week after the work incident. He was examined by his physician and released from care. Petitioner did not seek any further medical treatment. He received a 1.5 percent loss of use of the left leg at arbitration. The Commission vacated this award finding that the claimant failed to establish any permanency. Claimant testified at arbitration that he had ongoing problems with his knee. However, he acknowledged that he had not sought additional treatment.

This is a good decision and stands for the proposition that permanency must still be demonstrated and supported with medical evidence. In short, not all strains warrant a permanency award and should be defended on that basis when appropriate.

Causal Connection Between work Activities and Repetitive Injuries

In Makowski v. Runge Paper Co 09 I.W.C.C. 0509, a claim for bilateral repetitive shoulder injuries was found to be compensable. Petitioner testified that she would cradle the phone between her left ear and left shoulder while retrieving customer and product information from her computer. She would handwrite orders with her dominant right hand. She spent five hours of her workday on her computer. The height of her computer caused her to fully extend her arms at chest height to use the keyboard. The arbitrator found that the repetitive abduction of the arms and the repetitive shoulder activities contributed to the flare up of the pre-existing shoulder condition. Petitioner underwent surgery on her right arm and conservative care on the left arm. She was awarded 20% loss of use of the right arm and 5% loss of use of the left arm.

The holding in this case demonstrates how little activity is required to demonstrate a causal connection between work duties and repetitive injuries. Petitioner performing work duties at chest height was likely the determinative factor in this case. Such evidence is necessary to demonstrate repetitive trauma to the shoulder versus the hands or elbows.

 

Originally published in the Winter 2009 edition of Quinn Quarterly.