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Tee-pak, Inc. v. Industrial Com.





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Vermilion County; the Hon. John P. Meyer, Judge, presiding.


Claimant, Robert Pierce, filed an application for adjustment of his claim under the Workers' Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 48, par. 138.1 et seq.) for injuries he sustained while employed by Tee-Pak, Inc. An arbitrator awarded benefits to claimant for permanent total disability and medical expenses. At the same time, the arbitrator granted a credit of $9,647.93 to Tee-Pak for payments made to claimant under a benefit program which ensures a full salary to Tee-Pak employees who are off work due to an accident or illness. On review, the Industrial Commission affirmed the decision of the arbitrator. The circuit court of Vermilion County confirmed the decision of the Commission, and Tee-Pak appeals. Claimant has filed a cross-appeal from that portion of the decision giving a $9,647.93 credit to Tee-Pak.

Claimant was employed by Tee-Pak as a shop foreman. On April 20, 1978, he bent over a machine to inspect it. As he stood up, he struck the back of his head on a turnbuckle. He felt as if something was "exploding" in him and then found himself stunned and on the floor. Claimant's head was bleeding, and he had trouble seeing. The plant safety director took him to Fern Spencer, the company nurse, who washed and dressed the head wound. Claimant returned to work for the remainder of the day.

The next day, claimant was almost completely deaf in both ears, and was nauseated and faint. He had to leave work. The following Saturday, hearing partially returned in the left ear. A few days after the accident, he began experiencing tinnitus (severe noise) and sharp pains within his head. He discharged large black blood clots from his nose. These problems were made known to Spencer, who made an appointment for claimant to see Dr. Stanley Bloustine.

On April 27, 1978, Dr. Bloustine, an otorhinolaryngologist, examined claimant at the request of Tee-Pak. His report shows that after comparing a 1974 audiogram with the 1978 audiogram, Dr. Bloustine found sensori-neural hearing loss which provided "documented evidence of further hearing loss from this recent head trauma." Claimant testified that at all times he had "severe noise" in his head and that anything loud caused a sharp pain in his head.

The pain, tinnitus and difficulties with balance continued. Tee-Pak's nurse sent claimant to Dr. Diokno, who admitted him to a hospital on May 9, 1978. Claimant was monitored for a heart condition, but the doctors ruled out myocardial infarction. On May 11 claimant returned to work, still experiencing pain, tinnitus, and imbalance.

On May 23, 1978, the nurse sent claimant to Dr. A. Reese Matteson, an otorhinolaryngologist. Dr. Matteson performed audiograms and prescribed medication. As of August 8, 1978, he reported that claimant still had a high pitched tinnitus and that his hearing was unchanged. As of April 17, 1979, the audiogram remained the same. Claimant stated that after the accident he began having headaches more centralized around his eyes and they gradually became worse. He controlled the headaches with aspirin until the early summer of 1979.

In May 1979, claimant's previous symptoms of noise and pain in his head continued, and he began having trouble with speech and difficulty reading numbers. Tee-Pak's nurse referred claimant to Dr. Dorothy Schultz, a neurologist. Claimant testified that the nurse gave him a slip of paper upon which Dr. Schultz' address and telephone number were written. He telephoned Dr. Schultz, but was told he would need a doctor's referral. Claimant testified that Tee-Pak's nurse then suggested he ask Dr. Matteson to provide the required doctor's referral to Dr. Schultz. Dr. Matteson did so.

On June 1, 1979, Dr. Schultz examined claimant, who complained of difficulty with speech, reversing numbers, headaches and tinnitus. She found elevated blood pressure and a total loss of hearing in his right ear. Dr. Schultz referred him to Dr. Robert K. Kuramoto, an otorhinolaryngologist, for tinnitus masker evaluation. Dr. Kuramoto treated claimant from July 5 to November 26, 1979. A tinnitus masker did not alleviate the noise problem, and Dr. Kuramoto prescribed a hearing aid. In August 1979, claimant told Dr. Kuramoto he suffered from frontal headaches associated with the noise in his right ear, along with nausea and vomiting. Claimant testified that beginning in June 1979, he could not control his headaches, and the noise in his head was more than he could bear.

On September 5, 1979, Dr. Schultz again saw claimant. His headaches had increased in frequency and severity, and emesis was also being experienced. Dr. Schultz believed that claimant was suicidal and prescribed lithium for the headaches. Dr. Schultz testified that the side effects of lithium include slowness, tremor, loss of postural reflexes, stiffness, drunken-like gait, fatigue and often diabetes. On September 17, 1979, Dr. Schultz saw claimant who was beginning to experience the lithium side effects described above. After starting the lithium, however, claimant's headaches and tinnitus had ceased and his temper was no longer uncontrollable. Dr. Schultz instructed claimant to remain off work while his medications were being adjusted, and she decreased his lithium dosage.

After the decrease in lithium, claimant's headaches returned, the noise in his head became "incapacitating," and many of the side effects remained. Dr. Schultz prescribed synalgos, a pain medication, so that he would not have to take as much lithium. Once again, however, Dr. Schultz had to increase the lithium dosage. Later, she prescribed symmetrel and then sinemet to counteract the lithium side effects. After some improvement, on October 29, 1979, Dr. Schultz released claimant for work.

On November 30, 1979, Dr. Schultz prescribed parlodel to control the nausea which accompanied the use of sinemet. The parlodel treatment was without success, and medication problems resulted in his continued absence from work. In January 1980, Dr. Schultz attempted to decrease the lithium level. The headaches and tinnitus returned and she was again compelled to increase the lithium and to prescribe sinemet for the lithium side effects. The increase in lithium brought back the side effects of shuffling, staggering, wobbling and faintness. On February 11, 1980, claimant was allowed to return to work. He found himself falling against walls, staggering, and too weak to stand. Dr. Schultz prescribed various medications and told claimant he could only continue to work if he sat down most of the time. On February 29, 1980, claimant continued to have severe side effects, and on March 14, 1980, Dr. Schultz told claimant not to work. On April 1, she decreased the lithium dosage and released him for work. On April 7, 1980, Dr. Schultz noted that his condition was worse and she increased the lithium.

On approximately April 20, 1980, Tee-Pak's nurse told claimant that she did not think he was physically fit to continue working and asked him to leave the building. Claimant refused, and returned to his work. The next day, with Dr. Diokno present, the nurse again spoke to claimant. Dr. Diokno asked why claimant continued to work, but claimant refused to quit.

On April 23, 1980, Dr. Schultz saw claimant. She found that his blood sugar level was elevated, instructed him to stop working, and referred him to Dr. William P. Marshall, an internist. Dr. Marshall hospitalized claimant for treatment of his diabetes. While claimant was in the hospital, Dr. Schultz attempted to change the form and amount of lithium. The headaches and noise became "unbearable," and Dr. Schultz returned claimant to full dosage. On May 26, 1980, Dr. Schultz examined claimant and noted ataxia, poor postural reflexes and slow movement of the upper extremity. She referred him to Dr. Samuel Young, a neurologist, for a second opinion regarding claimant's ability to return to work. On June 16, 1980, Dr. Young examined claimant. Although his objective ...

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