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Interlake, Inc. v. Industrial Com.





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Livingston County, the Hon. William T. Caisley, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied April 8, 1983.

This appeal is from a judgment of the circuit court of Livingston County, which confirmed a decision by the Industrial Commission. In the decision, the Commission affirmed and adopted an arbitrator's award of lifetime benefits to Frieda Bridgeforth, the widow of Henry Bridgeforth, who died while returning home from work at a factory of Interlake, Inc., in Pontiac. Interlake appealed from the circuit court's judgment directly to this court under Rule 302(a)(2) (73 Ill.2d R. 302(a)(2)).

Henry Bridgeforth died on October 4, 1976, at the age of 63. Frieda and he had been married for 33 years, and they had eight children. Two of those children were under 18 years at the time of his death. Billy Bridgeforth was born on October 27, 1960. Johnny Bridgeforth was born August 16, 1964. Henry's widow, Frieda Bridgeforth, remarried on February 12, 1977.

Henry Bridgeforth, the decedent, had worked for Interlake for 10 years. He was a "staker," that is he operated a machine that would "stake" end plates. He would pick up the end plates from a basket next to him, insert two rivets into each end plate, and cycle the plates through the machine. In a 10-hour shift, Henry Bridgeforth would cycle about 3,400 pieces or plates.

According to the testimony of other workers, the job involved some bending and lifting, depending upon whether the basket from which one took the plates was placed on the floor or on a table. The plates weighed a pound or a pound and a half, and Henry would pick up five, 10 or even 15 plates at a time. Fred Eppel, an Interlake employee who had operated a staker machine, testified that at times one had to lift five or 10 plates and place them on a chute to load the machine.

Charles Bridgeforth, a son of the decedent, also worked at Interlake. He had worked the staker machine, too, and testified that it was strenuous work. Operating it, he said, made eight hours seem like 15 hours. He stated that the repetitious moving while standing in a "kind of half way humped position" placed strain on the chest and shoulders. According to Charles, because of the strain the job produced, only a few workers would operate the staker rather than seeking to trade jobs if another job was available. His father complained about the strain on his arms and chest, Charles said, and he tried to rotate job assignments, but the company wanted him to stay on the staker because he was proficient at it.

Jerry Steinbrecker, Henry Bridgeforth's foreman, testified that the decedent was a machine operator, and that he spent about 85% of his working time operating the staker. He minimized the physical effort in operating a staker. Machine operator, he said, was one of the plant's "lightest duty jobs," and the arm movement involved in operating the staker was about as limited as that involved in handwriting.

Henry Bridgeforth drove to work on October 4, 1976. Frieda, his wife, testified that he left home around 2:30 p.m. He had not worked since July 1976. In July, the plant had gone on strike, and in August he underwent bilateral inguinal hernia surgery. He had spent much of the time he was off work lying around the house, Frieda testified. She also testified that prior to October 4, 1976, the decedent would return from work, tired and weak, and complaining of this condition. Too, she stated that for two years prior to October 4, 1976, he had been taking diutensen for high blood pressure. Charles Bridgeforth testified that he had seen his father about two weeks before he started back to work, and that his father appeared to be in fine health.

The decedent's shift began at 3:30 p.m. The temperature in the factory that day was in the upper 70's or low 80's. Charles said that he saw the decedent at about 3:45, and his father looked "happy as a lark." Charles saw him at 6 o'clock, though, and his father said that he was "running out of gas." At 7 p.m. Charles said that Henry had a yellowish color and was complaining that he felt nauseous and that his chest was tightening up. At 8 p.m., Fred Eppel saw the decedent doubled over with stomach pain. Eppel told the foreman, Jerry Steinbrecker, and Steinbrecker came over. Henry said he felt like vomiting but he was unable to do so.

Steinbrecker testified that at that time Henry had a peculiar grayish color and was perspiring. He was complaining of stomach pain. Steinbrecker soaked some paper towels in cold water, put them on Henry's head and neck, and stayed with Henry until he said he felt better, and until his color was restored. The foreman told him that he could go home and offered to drive him or to have Charles drive him, but Henry decided to drive himself. Steinbrecker walked him to the door at about 8:20 p.m.

Alvin Lindsey, a State trooper, testified that about 9 p.m. he found the decedent's body sitting upright in his automobile about 30 miles from the Interlake plant. The automobile was about 60 yards off the roadway, up against a tree. Tire tracks led straight from the road to the tree with no evidence of braking or maneuvering. The engine was running, the car was in gear, the headlights were on, the radio was playing. Henry's eyes were open, but Lindsey could detect no pulse. He tried CPR without success.

The medical evidence at the hearing consisted of the records of the hospital where the hernia surgery had been performed and the testimony of three physicians. No autopsy had been performed.

Dr. Samuel E. Baz was the decedent's family doctor. He performed the hernia operation in August 1976. During Henry Bridgeforth's convalescence, Dr. Baz found that he had high blood pressure. The elevated pressure, however, was reduced without medication. Dr. Baz stated that in the case of hypertension from which the decedent suffered, the hypertension is not sustained and could be due to generalized arteriosclerosis of the arteries. ...

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