Case Law Update – Summer/Fall 2021

Court Affirms Commission Decision Based on a Single CT Scan

Maroney v. Illinois Workers’ Comp. Comm’n, 2021 IL App (3d) 200213WC.

Facts

Claimant Maroney sustained a back injury while working for Respondent Joe’s Towing and Recovery. On December 18, 2016, claimant was to jump-start a customer’s vehicle at her residence. He slipped on ice that was covered with snow on her driveway and fell on his back. CT showed multilevel lumbar degenerative disc bulges. It also showed “[c]hronic compression deformity of the L1 vertebral body with the 60% vertical height remaining in mid body unchanged from previous CT of the abdomen from [March 20, 2012].” On April 18, 2017, claimant had another accident. Claimant had a lower back injury in 1995 when he suffered a pressure fracture after a 50-foot fall from a roof, but said he had no back pain before the 2016 fall.

Claimant underwent an IME with Dr. Stephen Weiss who opined claimant “sustained only a lumbar strain secondary to the work incident.”  The basis of Dr. Weiss’ opinion was the fact claimant was able to continue working after the injury in question and his radicular complaints, which required treatment, were not documented until four months later.

Claimant’s treating doctor, Dr. Kube, testified “that the herniation was caused by a ‘recent injury,’ which would have ‘occurred in the last few to several months’” based on his review of the x-rays from claimant’s first day of treatment following the second accident and a May 12, 2017 MRI. Dr. Kube did not review the 2012 CT scan.

The arbitrator found the opinions of Dr. Kube to be more persuasive than those of Dr. Weiss because the latter had not acknowledged that claimant had reported at the hospital in April 2017 that his pain had been present since the December 2016 fall. Accordingly, the arbitrator found claimant had sufficiently proved that his disc herniation at L5-S1 was causally connected to his work injury on December 18, 2016.

The Commission reversed the arbitrator’s decision regarding causal connection, vacated the TTD benefits, and reduced the medical benefits and PPD awards. Although the Commission found claimant had suffered a work-related accident in December 2016, it also found this accident did not cause and was unrelated to claimant’s current condition of ill-being. The Commission specifically noted Dr. Kube’s failure to review the earlier (2012) CT scan and compare to the more recent (2017) CT scan.

The Peoria County Circuit Court affirmed.

Appellate Court Holding and Analysis

On appeal, claimant contended that the Commission took “an extremely narrow view of the evidence when it based its decision to reverse solely on the fact that his treating doctor had not reviewed the CT taken on December 18, 2016 and that all of the medical records confirm claimant’s “problems started on December 18, 2016[,] and remained till after surgery.” He argued that the IME doctor and his treating doctor produced medical opinions which are conflicting, and that the Commission erred in choosing the opinion of Dr. Weiss.

The Appellate Court opined that there was no battle of the medical opinions, as the claimant argued, since the Commission rightly found Dr. Weiss’s opinion was supported by the evidence from the medical record, whereas Dr. Kube’s opinion did not take into account an earlier CT scan taken prior to the work accident.  The Court noted that both doctors agreed that, according to the May 2017 MRI, claimant suffered a herniated disc. Dr. Kube’s opinion differed from Dr. Weiss’s on the subject of causation purely because he did not review the 2012 CT scan that showed no change from 2012 to 2016 and thus placed the date of the herniated disc at December 2016.

The Court found the Commission’s decision was not against the manifest weight of the evidence and upheld the decision.


Court Rules Contract was Unambiguous in Establishing an Employer-Employee Relationship

Aureus Med. Group v. Illinois Workers’ Comp. Comm’n, 2021 IL App (3d) 200201WC-U.

Facts

Respondent Aureus Medical Group operates a healthcare staffing company.   Respondent hired claimant Andrea Tyler to work a temporary assignment as operating room nurse at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, IN. Claimant is from Illinois. She took respondent’s competency exam at a public library in Lockport, IL.   From home, she conducted phone interview with Memorial Hospital’s representative.  Claimant was told later by respondent that Memorial Hospital had an assignment for her.  In response, claimant said “that would be great.”

Claimant took drug screen and physical in Illinois.  She applied for the Indiana nursing license in Lockport and received her contract via email in Lockport.  Claimant printed and signed the contract in Lockport and emailed it back to respondent. The subsequent modification agreement was done the same way.

On February 22, 2016, claimant sustained injuries to her right shoulder and right knee when she fell at Memorial Hospital.

Respondent argued Illinois did not have jurisdiction and that the “last act” necessary for condition precedent to employment was the State of Indiana Board of Nursing providing claimant with her nursing license.

Commission Decision: Obtaining an Indiana nursing license was not a condition precedent but rather a “condition subsequent” to qualify for assignment.  The hiring of claimant and her placement in the assignment at Memorial Hospital were two separate and distinct events.  The Circuit Court confirmed.

Respondent alternatively challenged Commission’s decision sustaining claimant’s parol-evidence objection to an employer witness’s testimony as to the meaning of the contract.

Appellate Court Holding and Analysis

Appellate Court: Affirmed on both issues of jurisdiction and parol evidence.

The last act necessary was when claimant typed in her name on the contract and transmitted to employer.  Employer improperly conflated the two events of hiring and then the placement of claimant. Where a writing is unambiguous on its face, it must be interpreted without the aid of extrinsic evidence.  If a writing is susceptible to multiple meanings, parol evidence may be admissible to resolve an ambiguity and uses the “four corners rule” to determine whether ambiguous.

The Appellate Court reviewed the Commission decision on admissibility of parol evidence for an abuse of discretion. An abuse of discretion occurs when the Commission’s ruling was arbitrary, fanciful, or unreasonable, or no reasonable person would take the view adopted by the Commission. The contract was not ambiguous as it repeatedly referred to claimant as “employee” beginning in the first paragraph and set forth the parameters of the parties’ “employment relationship” which “apply to [claimant’s] employment with [respondent] and are not exclusive to the assignment this contract is associated with.”

The Court upheld the Commission decision and found jurisdiction was proper in Illinois.