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Forrest v. Industrial Commission





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Macon County, the Hon. Albert G. Webber, III, Judge, presiding.


Claimant, Thomas B. Forrest, filed a claim for compensation with the Industrial Commission, alleging that he was injured while working at the Caterpillar Tractor Company on November 18, 1975. The arbitrator awarded claimant temporary disability payments and compensation for 25% loss of use of both legs. On review sought by respondent, Caterpillar, the case was submitted to the Industrial Commission on the record, and the Commission vacated the award, ruling that claimant had failed to prove that his injury arose out of and in the course of his employment. Claimant appealed to the circuit court of Macon County, and that court confirmed the Commission's decision. The cause is brought to this court by claimant under Rule 302(a) (58 Ill.2d R. 302(a)).

Claimant was the first witness to testify. On direct examination, claimant's attorney directed claimant's attention to November 17, 1975, rather than November 18, the date indicated in his claim form as the date of injury. Claimant first related the details of the alleged accident. He was working with a heavy metal drill, and he had attached it to a hoist to facilitate its movement over a drill fixture. In attempting to position the drill, he pulled the drill toward him, but it moved more quickly than he expected, and it hit him in the stomach. He said that the hoist was too far from the drill fixture. He was pushed against the fixture and experienced a burning sensation in his back. Claimant left work that day without reporting the accident, but developed difficulty in moving as he completed a bus ride home.

Claimant returned to work the following day and told his foreman, Larry Safford, about his accident and the danger of the hoist position. According to claimant, Safford said that similar accidents had occurred before. Claimant was assigned to work with a lighter drill.

Claimant did not work on the second day following the alleged accident, but went deer hunting. He explained that the trip was prearranged. He experienced much pain and difficulty in traveling and in hunting, and the hunting party returned prematurely.

On the day following his return, claimant visited Dr. Harold F. Haines, a chiropractor. He obtained temporary relief and returned to work the next day. He continued to work and over the first few weeks had occasional checkups with the company nurse.

According to claimant, he experienced greater pain as time progressed, and he grew tired more easily. His legs especially weakened. Beginning on April 12, 1976, and continuing through June 4, 1976, claimant periodically visited Dr. Haines for treatment. He told Dr. Haines that the injury was sustained on November 18, 1975. Due to pain and weakness, he stopped working on June 3. Beginning on or about June 6, 1976, claimant began consulting Dr. J. Peter Frechette. The doctor's records indicated that claimant said that the accident was on November 19, 1975, rather than November 18, as indicated in his claim for compensation. Following preliminary examinations, Dr. Frechette recommended hospitalization and X rays of the spine. A problem was detected in the lower spine, and, in early July of 1976, Dr. Frechette performed a laminectomy on claimant. In addition to removing parts of vertebrae, Dr. Frechette also removed some ligaments and two defective discs from claimant's lower spine. His condition improved to the point where he could walk, move around and "do some things" with less discomfort. He remained under Dr. Frechette's supervision.

Pursuant to respondent's request, claimant visited Dr. H.O. Hoffman three times to check claimant's progress. Also pursuant to respondent's request, claimant visited two company doctors, one of whom, on March 30, 1977, recommended that claimant return to work after claimant had expressed a desire to do so.

Claimant returned to work the next day, but his legs tired quickly, and on the following day, he experienced severe pain. His legs cramped, he experienced difficulty walking, and he almost fell from his porch as he returned home that night.

The following day, April 2, 1977, claimant contacted Dr. Frechette, who directed claimant not to work. About three weeks later, Dr. Frechette again X-rayed claimant's spine and prescribed a back brace which was worn for two weeks. With Dr. Frechette's approval, claimant returned to work on July 11, 1977, again working with a lighter drill.

At the close of direct examination, claimant testified that he had some back trouble in 1973, for which he consulted Dr. Haines. As a letter from Dr. Haines to claimant's attorney showed, the visit was actually in October of 1972. Claimant was not then employed by respondent.

On cross-examination, claimant was questioned about previous consultations with Dr. Haines. One of respondent's exhibits, the letter from Dr. Haines to claimant's attorney, stated that X rays were taken during claimant's October 1972 visit which indicated a mild degenerative hypertrophic osteoarthritis of the lower spine, with possible disc problems. During this visit, claimant spoke of back difficulties in April of 1971. Also, according to the letter, claimant visited Dr. Haines a second time in September of 1975. X rays then taken showed no appreciable change in condition.

Respondent's attorney, apparently misinterpreting the letter, asked claimant if he had visited Dr. Haines in 1971. Consistent with the letter, claimant answered that he did not see or even know Dr. Haines in 1971. He also stated that he did not recall having visited Dr. Haines in September of 1975 nor missing two or three days of work that month.

Respondent's attorney then questioned claimant concerning the contents of a medical report prepared by a company nurse during claimant's visit to the company first-aid office. The report states that claimant said that he was injured in September of 1975 when a hoist swung and hit him and that he missed two or three days of work. In response to the attorney's questions, claimant said that he did not tell the nurse that ...

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