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Roberts v. Industrial Com.





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Macon County, the Hon. Donald W. Morthland, Judge, presiding.


Claimant, Timothy Roberts, sought workmen's compensation as the result of an alleged injury he sustained while in the employ of the respondent, Shappert Engineering Company. An arbitrator found that claimant "failed to prove that he sustained accidental injuries arising out of and in the course of his employment" and therefore denied compensation. On review, the Industrial Commission, although it "reversed" the decision of the arbitrator, nevertheless denied the claimant compensation because he "failed to prove any causal connection between his present complaints of ill-being and the * * * accident." The circuit court of Macon County confirmed the decision of the Commission, and claimant brought a direct appeal to this court. 73 Ill.2d R. 302(a).

The sole issue presented is whether the Commission's finding that claimant's condition is not causally related to the alleged accident is against the manifest weight of the evidence.

The claimant was the only witness to testify at the hearing before the arbitrator. He stated that, on June 21, 1978, he was employed by respondent as a laborer. On that date, while working underneath a bridge, the ladder upon which claimant was standing slipped, and he fell. He stated that he experienced a sharp pain in his lower back, although he continued to work the rest of the day.

The following day, claimant went to St. Mary's Hospital, where his back was X-rayed. He was informed that he had a pulled muscle, and pain medication was prescribed for him. Claimant continued to work through August, at which point his job was completed. He testified that the pain in his back increased during this time, but he did not see a doctor. In November, he obtained another job as a laborer, for two weeks, with a construction company. He was then laid off throughout the winter.

In January or February of 1979, claimant's back pain radiated into his left leg, and he could not walk. On March 2, 1979, he consulted Dr. Sterling Parker, an orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Parker admitted him to St. Mary's Hospital and administered a myelogram test (a radiograph of the spinal canal). Surgery was subsequently performed on claimant's lower back.

Dr. Parker allowed claimant to return to work on May 11, 1979. He obtained employment operating a jackhammer for approximately one week. He testified that he continued to experience pain but nevertheless worked until he was laid off. He is not presently receiving medical treatment.

Finally, claimant testified that, prior to June of 1978, he had not injured his back or lower legs "in any way that [he could] remember." He stated that he had experienced "a couple pains" in his back before that date, but nothing of a serious nature. He also indicated that he had not sustained any injuries to his back or legs subsequent to June 21, 1978.

On cross-examination, claimant admitted that since his visit to the hospital the day following the alleged accident, he sought no further medical attention for nine months. He also stated that he did not remember seeing Dr. Parker in 1970 for back pain, or being told at that time he suffered from a herniated disc. He initially stated that he never told the doctor he hurt his back after being "thrown" by a horse. Later, however, he testified that he did recall this incident. He also stated that he did not remember seeing Dr. Parker in 1974, and receiving back X rays. He did recall experiencing "a little bitty pain in [his] back," that year, after he moved a shed.

On the basis of this evidence, the arbitrator denied the claim for compensation. At the subsequent hearing before the Commission, claimant introduced into evidence the depositions of his two physicians. Dr. Parker stated that he saw claimant in June of 1970. He had been "thrown by a horse" in April or May of that year and complained of pain in his back and left leg. Dr. Parker stated that at that time, he thought claimant suffered from an "L-4 disc attack" (a spinal condition located at the fourth vertebra in the lower part of the back). He prescribed a back support for claimant to wear. He saw claimant again in 1971, at which time claimant was unable to lift heavy objects without suffering from pain in his back and left hip.

Dr. Parker also stated that claimant again consulted him in 1974, complaining of low back pain. An X ray showed minimal degenerative changes at L-4. He next saw claimant in 1979. His condition at that time was suggestive of a herniated disc at L-5. The doctor performed an operation and removed the disc. When asked whether there was a causal connection between the alleged injury and claimant's current condition, Dr. Parker responded: "[T]he disc abnormality, it might or could have been aggravated by the injury * * *. I do not think that it produced the complete disc rupture that he was operated on for, which according to my history occurred about two weeks prior to the time I saw him."

On cross-examination, Dr. Parker indicated that the pain claimant suffered on June 21, 1978, could have been due to a pulled muscle. He stated that he "really [had] no basis to make the opinion" except his knowledge of claimant's history.

Also deposed by claimant was Dr. Gordon Schultz, an orthopedic surgeon. He testified that he saw claimant in January of 1980, and reviewed his X rays. According to Dr. Schultz, claimant "had a little beyond the usual disability that someone has after a laminectomy." He stated there was a problem with the nerve root at L-4 or L-5, which could account for claimant's problem. When asked whether there was a causal relationship between the alleged accident and claimant's current condition, Dr. Schultz responded:

"Well, I have in mind that he had had back trouble previously, and then there were some degenerative changes seen in '74 which were very minor, but he didn't have any significant leg trouble until he did have this accident of June 21, 1978, and I think that ruptured his disc, but the disc didn't get over against a nerve root until later, and that is what drove him to the doctor. It finally moved ...

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