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Hart Carter Co. v. Industrial Com.

OPINION FILED MARCH 29, 1982.

HART CARTER COMPANY, APPELLANT,

v.

THE INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION ET AL. (ROBERT BOOLMAN, APPELLEE).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of McLean County, the Hon. Keith F. Campbell, Judge, presiding.

CHIEF JUSTICE RYAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This is a direct appeal of a workmen's compensation case from the circuit court of McLean County pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 302(a) (73 Ill.2d R. 302(a)). The arbitrator awarded Robert Boolman, who was employed by Hart Carter Company, 15 weeks' temporary total disability pursuant to section 19(b) of the Workmen's Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 48, par. 138.19(b)), and the Industrial Commission affirmed. The circuit court of McLean County reversed and remanded with instructions that the Industrial Commission make a special finding as requested by the employer, Hart Carter Company. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 48, par. 138.19(e).) The Industrial Commission then issued a decision making the finding of fact and again affirming the decision of the arbitrator. The circuit court confirmed.

Two issues are raised on appeal: whether the award of the Industrial Commission is against the manifest weight of the evidence, and whether the special finding of the Industrial Commission met the requirements of section 19(e) of the Workmen's Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 48, par. 138.19(e)).

Prior to January 19, 1976, the date of the alleged injury, Robert Boolman had been employed by Hart Carter Company in Gridley, Illinois, for approximately one year. At the time of the accident, he was working as a spin riveter, putting hardware on metal frames of farm equipment. He testified that on the day of the accident he reached up to get four frames off a shelf and in bringing them down he felt something give in his back. That day he had begun work about 6:30 a.m.; the incident occurred about 8:30 or 9 a.m. He worked until approximately 11:30, at which time he told his foreman, Bob Lovings, that he had injured himself and was in pain and needed to go home.

Boolman's testimony is contradicted by that of Bob Lovings, who testified that Boolman told him only that his legs hurt him and that he wanted to go home. According to Lovings, Boolman did not mention his back or that an accident had occurred at work and did not ask to see the company nurse.

An absence report, but not an injury report, was later filled out. No one witnessed the accident, and Boolman apparently talked to no one else at that time.

On January 21, 1976, two days later, Boolman signed a typed statement which had been prepared by the plant superintendent, Lyle Gilmore, which stated that to the best of Boolman's knowledge he did not injure himself at work and that he wished to be covered by group insurance. Also on that date he saw his physician, Dr. Gordon Shultz, an orthopedic surgeon in the Bloomington-Normal area. In connection with that visit and with another visit on January 23, 1976, Dr. Shultz completed an attending physician's statement for a group insurance form. On that form, Dr. Shultz indicated his diagnosis as "low grade inflammatory disease, lumbar spine," and answered "no" to a question as to whether the condition was due to an injury or sickness arising out of employment and "yes, April 1975," to a question as to whether the patient had ever had the same or a similar condition. Boolman was hospitalized for his back problems from January 26, 1976, to January 31, 1976.

In this appeal the employer seeks to characterize the compensation claim as an "afterthought" on the part of the employee, corroborated only by "doctored" records. The employer argues that Dr. Shultz's testimony was discredited both by the fact that he had referred the case to his son, an attorney, and by the allegedly "doctored" records. The employer further argues that after disregarding Dr. Shultz's discredited testimony, the record contains only the employee's uncorroborated testimony, which was itself contradicted by his written statement that he had not been injured at work. Finally, the employer argues that the employee's uncorroborated statement cannot support an award when it is contradicted by other evidence in the record.

Based on his evaluation of the evidence presented at the hearing, the arbitrator found that on January 19, 1976, Robert Boolman had sustained accidental injuries arising out of and in the course of his employment. The evidence is indeed contradictory. At the hearing, Boolman testified that he had notified his foreman that he was injured at work. His foreman testified that Boolman had told him only that his legs were hurting and that he wanted to go home. Boolman sought to explain his signed statement that his injury did not occur at work by testifying that he misunderstood the import of what he was signing and that he did not understand the difference between group insurance and workmen's compensation. In return, the employer suggests that since Boolman had already had both a workmen's compensation award and a group insurance claim during his tenure at Hart Carter Company, he was bound to know the difference between the two. It is uncontradicted, however, that, when the group insurance payment did arrive, Boolman refused to accept it, saying that he had been injured at work.

Dr. Shultz testified at the hearing that he had diagnosed Boolman's condition as "an infected disc space between the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae." When asked whether lifting metal frames could have a causal relationship with the discomfort Boolman experienced, Shultz replied that Boolman's infection was in a space between two vertebrae where a disc had been removed and that trauma can aggravate such a condition.

As indicated earlier, the employer seeks to discredit Dr. Shultz's testimony both by the suggestion that Shultz referred Boolman's compensation case to his son and by the suggestion that Shultz's records had been altered, presumably to support Boolman's claim. Specifically, the employer argues that the typewritten dates with respect to the date "symptoms first appeared or accident happened" and the date when "patient was continuously totally disabled" on the group insurance form had been interlineated to read the 19th of January, the date of the claimed accident. Secondly, the employer also attacks the validity of Shultz's typewritten office records on the ground that they contain a handwritten notation "lifting frames off shelf" and the date, January 19, 1976. The doctor's office notes are dated January 21, 1976, the date of Boolman's first injury-related office visit, and contain the notation: "About 48 hours ago he had a recurrence of back pain and it is very excruciating. * * * I wanted him to enter the hospital but he wants to go back to work. I just don't see how he can." The insurance form containing the interlineated dates was checked "no" in answer to the question concerning whether the injury arose out of employment.

When Dr. Shultz was questioned about the alterations, he responded that he did not personally make them nor were they made at his direction, but that it was likely an employee in his office did it. There were also other handwritten notations on the doctor's records that are not particularly relevant to the issues in this case.

We have many times held that resolving conflicts in the evidence, drawing inferences from testimony, and determining credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given to their testimony are matters within the province of the Industrial Commission, and this court will not disturb the Commission's finding unless against the manifest weight of the evidence. (Long v. Industrial Com. (1979), 76 Ill.2d 561, 565.) In Riteway Plumbing v. Industrial Com. (1977), 67 Ill.2d 404, as in the instant case, the employer contended that the claimant had failed to complain of an injury to his back immediately after the accident and that this failure compelled the conclusion that the claimant was not injured at work. In that case, while we observed that this circumstance does raise questions of credibility and conflicting ...


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