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Crane Co. v. Industrial Com.





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. DONALD S. McKINLAY, Judge, presiding.


This is a direct appeal from a judgment of the circuit court of Cook County affirming the decision of the Industrial Commission in which the Commission had set aside the decision of the arbitrator and made an award to the claimant, William B. Pritchett, for total disability from an occupational disease — silicosis — arising out of and during the course of his employment by Crane Company.

In seeking to upset the award the employer, Crane Company, argues that there is no evidence sufficient to show either exposure to the hazards of silicosis or that the employee was disabled by silicosis. The employer also contends that the claim should have been dismissed for lack of proper statutory notice, and that certain medical testimony on behalf of the claimant was improperly introduced.

Pritchett was first employed by Crane Company in May, 1951, and was soon made a chipper in the steel cleaning room in the foundry where he removed sand from castings with an air hammer. Sand blasters and wheel abraders were also located in the foundry.

After approximately nine months Pritchett was moved from the foundry to the machine shop where he would obtain sand from a locker 15 to 20 times a day to cover oil spills. In his operations he would also loosen foundry sand from castings with his machine. His duties in the machine shop also required him to return to the foundry to unearth bar stock from the foundry sand pit.

With the exception of a five-month layoff, Pritchett was employed by Crane Company from May 1951 to May 6, 1959 when he was laid off due to lack of available work. In July, 1959, he had a chest X-ray, and as a result he was given further tests, diagnosed as having tuberculosis, and in August, 1959, was admitted as a patient at a branch of the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium. He was discharged from the sanitarium on May 9, 1960, and was thereafter examined by Dr. Perusse who diagnosed his disease as silicosis.

On June 1, 1960, Pritchett filed his claim for compensation under the Workmen's Occupational Diseases Act. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1959, chap. 48, pars. 172.36 et seq.) It is conceded that no other notice of his disability was given Crane Company.

We must first consider the contention that claimant failed to comply with the notice requirements of the act. The statute provides:

"No proceedings for compensation under this Act shall be maintained unless notice has been given to the employer of disablement arising from an occupational disease as soon as practicable after the date of the disablement * * * * No defect or inaccuracy of such notice shall be a bar to the maintenance of proceedings on arbitration or otherwise by the employee unless the employer proves that he is unduly prejudiced in such proceedings by such defect or inaccuracy. Notice of the disabling disease may be given orally or in writing. In any case, unless application for compensation is filed with the Commission within one (1) year after the date of the disablement, where no compensation has been paid, or within (1) year after the date of the last payment of compensation, where any has been paid, the right to file such application shall be barred." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1963, chap. 48, par. 172.41(c).

The first question to be resolved is whether notice of the filing of the claim itself can fill the office of the notice of disablement. According to the statute the notice to the employer may be oral or written. No form is prescribed, and no definite time limit is set. In Armour & Co. v. Industrial Com. 367 Ill. 471, the court stated that "the central thought and intention of the legislature was that such latitude and liberality in the matter of notice should be indulged as is consistent with the protection of the employer against unjust concealment of claims." See also Hoeffken Brothers, Inc. v. Industrial Com. 31 Ill.2d 405; Republic Steel Corp. v. Industrial Com. 26 Ill.2d 32.

This provision is far different from the detailed notice provisions made a condition precedent to suits against a municipality by the Cities and Villages Act, (cf. Erford v. City of Peoria, 229 Ill. 546) or the clear statutory time limit for filing of a claim under the Workmen's Compensation Act before the Industrial Commission. Cf. Bushnell v. Industrial Board, 276 Ill. 262.

One of the purposes of the instant statute is to protect the employer from concealed claims, and we conclude that under the circumstances of this case such purpose is fully served if the employer receives the required notice by the filing of the claim rather than by prior oral or written notice by the employee.

The next question is whether notice by filing the claim was not given "as soon as practicable after the date of disablement," to the prejudice of the employer. From a review of the record we cannot say that the Commission erred in failing to dismiss the claim on this ground. The claim was filed approximately three weeks after claimant's release from the hospital and after the first diagnosis of silicosis. The record is not clear as to whether claimant had knowledge of a silicosis disablement, or opportunity to give notice prior to his release. In any event, we feel that the employer has made no adequate showing of prejudice resulting from any delay in giving notice.

We turn now to the employer's claim that the evidence was insufficient to permit the Commission to find either exposure to the hazards of silicosis, or that Pritchett contracted ...

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