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National Tea Co. v. Industrial Com.





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Peoria County; the Hon. Thomas G. Ebel, Judge, presiding.


Claimant, Joseph McFalls, sought workmen's compensation for an injury which he sustained while in the employ of the respondent, National Tea Company. An arbitrator awarded claimant compensation for temporary total disability and permanent partial disability to the extent of 8% of the man as a whole. On review, the Industrial Commission found that claimant's condition was still temporary and reversed the arbitrator's award for permanent partial disability. The Commission also determined that claimant was entitled to vocational rehabilitation and remanded the cause to the arbitrator to consider an "appropriate" rehabilitation program. The circuit court of Peoria County confirmed the decision of the Commission, and respondent brought a direct appeal to this court. 73 Ill.2d R. 302(a).

The issue presented is whether the Commission's determination that claimant is entitled to vocational rehabilitation is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. A related question concerns the procedure by which the Commission determines whether, and to what extent, rehabilitation is necessary.

The claimant was the only witness to testify at the hearing before the arbitrator. He stated that, on July 14, 1978, he was employed by respondent as a meatcutter. On that date, he slipped while unloading a meat truck and experienced pain and discomfort in his lower back. Claimant consulted Dr. Edward Smith, an orthopedic surgeon. After administering conservative treatment, he performed a lumbar laminectomy upon claimant in October of 1978.

Subsequent to the surgery claimant returned to his employment with respondent, but was unable to continue work because of his back condition. Pursuant to Dr. Smith's recommendation, he sought other employment and obtained a managerial position at an Aamco transmission shop. His duties entailed test-driving cars and writing repair estimates. At the time of the hearing before the arbitrator, he was employed in the same position at a different Aamco shop.

Claimant further testified that he continues to experience back pain and is unable to perform activities which require heavy lifting or bending. However, he stated that he feels "pretty good if I am lifting up and down all the time. But, if I have to stand for a long period of time my left leg gets numb."

During cross-examination, claimant indicated that he has not consulted Dr. Smith for several months. He relieves the pain associated with his back condition by taking aspirin and doing certain prescribed exercises.

Claimant also introduced into evidence two letters written by Dr. Smith. The first letter, dated November 21, 1978, stated that claimant suffered from a lumbosacral strain, and that the length of his disability was undetermined. Claimant was placed on a bending restriction and a 15-pound lifting restriction. In Dr. Smith's opinion, he would be unable to continue work as a meatcutter due to his back condition.

In the second letter, dated September 15, 1980, Dr. Smith stated claimant's condition was improved, but he still could not perform activities requiring heavy lifting or excessive bending. He further indicated that claimant has "some small permanent disability" and that there is evidence of a degenerative disc disease in his lower spine. He did not believe claimant would require further medical treatment as long as he obtained employment which did not strain his lower back.

Another letter written by Dr. Smith, dated July 31, 1979, was introduced into evidence by respondent. It was stated therein that "a bizarre element of emotional overlay was entering the picture," implying that part of claimant's problem was psychological. Dr. Smith also noted that the ankle jerk on claimant's left side was depressed, and that there was a spasm in the lumbosacral region of his spine. In his opinion, claimant was both physically and emotionally unable to return to his previous employment and should seek vocational rehabilitation.

Respondent also introduced into evidence two letters written by Dr. John Henderson, a neurosurgeon, dated October 9, 1979, and July 1, 1980. Dr. Henderson indicated that claimant's "complaints are certainly not anatomical in nature," and he found no objective symptoms to support the complaints.

Claimant again testified on his own behalf at the hearing before the Commission. He stated that he had been employed by Aamco until January 30, 1981, at which time he was laid off. Other individuals in the same position as he were not laid off. During February and April of that year, his attorney wrote letters to respondent inquiring as to the possibility of employment, and requesting rehabilitation. Respondent did not offer claimant a job and did not contact him concerning the possibility of rehabilitation.

Claimant further stated that he made numerous attempts to secure other employment but was unsuccessful. Some of the job applications which he was required to complete requested information concerning his medical history. He also underwent a college aptitude test. The individuals who administered the exam recommended that claimant study business management or computers.

The Commission subsequently held a second hearing for the purpose of determining whether claimant was entitled to vocational rehabilitation. James Ragains, a rehabilitation counselor with the Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, testified on behalf of the claimant. He stated that he interviewed claimant in December of 1980 and administered to him a number of academic achievement, personality, and interest tests. The test results ...

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