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02/20/87 Peoria County Belwood v. the Industrial Commission

February 20, 1987

PEORIA COUNTY BELWOOD NURSING HOME, APPELLANT

v.

THE INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION ET AL. (WANDA J. CAGLE, APPELLEE)



Before this court, Belwood raises two related issues. The first issue is whether the Industrial Commission's finding that the claimant sustained an "accidental injury" is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Second, Belwood maintains that, since there is no specific "accident," the claim is barred by the three-year statute of limitations (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 48, par. 138.6(d)).

SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS

505 N.E.2d 1026, 115 Ill. 2d 524, 106 Ill. Dec. 235 1987.IL.199

Appeal from the Industrial Commission Division of the Appellate Court; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Peoria County.

APPELLATE Judges:

CHIEF JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the court. JUSTICE MORAN, Concurring.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE CLARK

The claimant, Wanda Cagle, filed a claim for compensation under the Workers' Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 48, par. 138.1 et seq.) (the Act) on August 24, 1979, alleging that she developed carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of her employment in the laundry room of her employer, Peoria County Belwood Nursing Home (Belwood). Both the arbitrator and, on review, the Industrial Commission found that the claimant had sustained an accidental injury as a result of repeated trauma to her wrist in her operation of two large washing machines in the laundry room of the nursing home. The circuit court of Peoria County confirmed the Commission's decision, and Belwood appealed to the appellate court. The appellate court affirmed the circuit court judgment and declared that the instant case involved a substantial question warranting consideration by this court. (138 Ill. App. 3d 880.) Belwood filed a petition for leave to appeal in this court pursuant to our Rule 315(a) (94 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)), and we granted its petition.

The issue raised in this appeal is whether an injury sustained as a result of work-related repetitive trauma is compensable under the Workers' Compensation Act without a finding that the injury occurred as a result of one specific incident traceable to a definite time, place and cause.

In the case at bar, the claimant worked for respondent for 12 years, the last six years in the laundry room. The duties of her employment required her to carry bags of laundry weighing between 25 and 50 pounds. After sorting the laundry in these bags, she would load two 200-pound-capacity washing machines by operating a spring-loaded door into each of three compartments. Each day the claimant loaded the machines six times.

Although claimant initially alleged that her injury occurred on October 5, 1976, the arbitrator amended the claimant's application to reflect the date of injury as October 4, 1976, a date when claimant testified she experienced symptoms at work. On October 5, 1976, claimant consulted Dr. John McLean, a neurologist, regarding her symptoms of pain, numbness, and tingling. She continued to work until August 23, 1977, when she underwent outpatient surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome -- "a complex of symptoms resulting from compression of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel with pain and burning or tingling paresthesias in the fingers and hand, sometimes extending to the elbow." Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary 1289 (26th ed. 1981).

The arbitrator awarded benefits for temporary total disability and for 25% permanent total disability. The Industrial Commission affirmed that award, and the circuit court confirmed the Commission's decision. The appellate court affirmed the circuit court judgment.

The more narrow issue presented in this appeal is what is meant by the term "accidental injury" within the meaning of the Act.

In the instant case, the claimant was found to have presented sufficient medical evidence to establish that her injury was work related. We do not believe that finding is against the manifest weight of the evidence. However, whether the claimant's injury is "accidental" is the crux of this case. We believe that the purpose behind the Workers' Compensation Act is best served by allowing compensation in a case like the instant one where an injury has been shown to be caused by the performance of the claimant's job and has developed gradually over a period of time, without requiring complete dysfunction. In order to achieve this result we believe the case of International Harvester Co. v. Industrial Com. (1973), 56 Ill. 2d 84, and that line of cases following International Harvester, should be interpreted so as to include a case like the instant one. We do not believe that in so doing we are partaking in judicial legislation; rather we are engaging in necessary and proper judicial statutory interpretation so as to implement the purpose of the Workers' Compensation Act.

The Workers' Compensation Act was intended to provide financial protection for injured workers regardless of a showing of negligence or contributory negligence, while precluding the employee from common law tort remedies. (Pathfinder Co. v. Industrial Com. (1976), 62 Ill. 2d 556, 563.) To that end, it has been consistently held that the Act ...


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