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01/19/89 General Motors Corporation v. the Industrial Commission

January 19, 1989





534 N.E.2d 992, 179 Ill. App. 3d 683, 128 Ill. Dec. 547 1989.IL.50

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Vermilion County; the Hon. David G. Bernthal, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE LEWIS delivered the opinion of the court. BARRY, P.J., and McNAMARA, WOODWARD, and McCULLOUGH, JJ., concur.


Claimant, William Kuehn, filed an application for adjustment of claim under the Workers' Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 48, par. 138.1 et seq.) for injuries received on May 1, 1980, while in the course of his employment with respondent, General Motors Corporation. At the hearing before the arbitrator, claimant contended that his injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment, which was disputed by respondent. The arbitrator found that claimant's injuries did arise out of and in the course of his employment and that claimant was completely and permanently disabled and was entitled to receive compensation for life. On review, the arbitrator's decision was affirmed by the Industrial Commission and confirmed by the circuit court of Vermilion County. Respondent appeals this decision.

The only issue raised on appeal is whether the Industrial Commission's determination that claimant's condition arose out of and in the course of his employment was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Respondent contends that there was insufficient direct evidence presented regarding the cause of claimant's injuries to support a finding of an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of claimant's employment pursuant to section 2 of the Workers' Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 48, par. 138.2).

At the hearing before the arbitrator, claimant testified that he was working as a truck driver for respondent on May 1, 1980. On that date, he was driving a forklift truck in the "hard iron area," when he either hit a pothole or attempted to avoid the pothole and hit something else. Claimant was unable to recall anything after that, and nine days later his wife brought him home from the hospital. Claimant did not remember the name of the hospital or the city where the hospital was located.

Claimant saw Drs. Gene Moore, Fitzhugh-Bell, and Lunsford after he was discharged from the hospital. Claimant testified that he cannot think clearly and that he has persistent daily headaches. Prior to May 1, 1980, claimant did not suffer headaches as constantly as he currently does.

Marlene Kuehn, claimant's wife, testified that on May 1, 1980, she was notified that claimant had had an accident. She was told that claimant had regained consciousness but that he was not acting normally. Mrs. Kuehn went to Lakeview Hospital in Danville, Illinois, and upon her arrival, she was informed that claimant had been transferred to Burnham City Hospital in Champaign.

When Mrs. Kuehn first saw claimant at Burnham City Hospital, claimant did not recognize her. She observed that claimant had a big bump on his forehead above his right eyebrow. The next day, claimant still did not know her and did not know his children. While at the hospital, claimant behaved strangely and was unable to identify common items such as a bicycle.

Mrs. Kuehn brought claimant home from the hospital eight days after his admittance. Within two days of his arrival home, claimant began to have "blackouts" or to "space out," and after the blackouts, claimant frequently slept. Mrs. Kuehn described claimant's "blackouts" as follows: "[He] starts shaking and his eyes started [ sic ] rolling around. And when I called his name, he didn't hear me. He doesn't hear me when he's spaced out." Prior to May 1, 1980, claimant had never had blackout spells. Mrs. Kuehn called Dr. Gene Moore and reported these blackouts to him, and he instructed her to take claimant to Riley Hospital for an electroencephalogram . She further testified that, at various times, Dr. Moore referred claimant to Drs. Fitzhugh-Bell and Lunsford, and that claimant had seen Dr. Imperial for the purpose of obtaining social security benefits. Mrs. Kuehn corroborated claimant's testimony that he suffers from constant headaches.

The admission records and discharge summary from Burnham City Hospital were admitted into evidence. These records established that claimant had suffered a "head injury" and "cerebral contusion." According to these records, claimant had hit a pothole while driving his forklift and had fallen or had been knocked from the machine, causing him to strike his head and to be knocked unconscious. Claimant regained consciousness prior to his arrival at Lakeview Hospital, but he was bewildered and disoriented. The doctor at Lakeview Hospital found claimant had no specific abnormalities other than his affect being abnormal.

Claimant was transferred from Lakeview Hospital to Burnham City Hospital. Upon admission at Burnham City Hospital, claimant was still disoriented, he had a slight abrasion on his right forehead, and he had a great deal of tenderness in the C7-T1 area posteriorly; however, his reflexes were equal, his handgrips were weak but equal, and his "pupils, fundi, EOMs" and eardrums were normal.

The discharge summary from Burnham City Hospital dated May 9, 1980, noted that claimant was admitted as an emergency following a head injury incurred at work. The exact mechanism of claimant's head injury was unknown, but it was determined that claimant was unconscious at the scene of the accident for about 20 minutes. Dr. Belber, claimant's treating physician, found that claimant was perplexed, confused, and that he had a severe memory deficit upon admission but that claimant's condition improved during claimant's stay at the hospital. The test results of an EEG, a CAT scan (computerized axial tomography), a spinal puncture and skull X rays had revealed no abnormalities. Dr. Belber's final diagnosis of claimant's condition was "[closed] head injury, with cerebral contusion syndrome, with full recovery."

A letter dated September 12, 1980, from Dr. Gene Moore to Dr. Fred Pierce, respondent's plant physician, was admitted into evidence. Attached to Dr. Moore's letter was a neuropsychological report by Dr. Fitzhugh-Bell in which the findings of her examination of claimant on July 15, 1980, were summarized. Dr. Moore's letter stated that because claimant gave an incoherent account of his accident, it would probably never be determined what happened. Dr. Moore concluded that claimant "was apparently injured and knocked unconscious in an accident at the General Motors Foundry." Dr. Moore found that it was possible but unlikely that claimant had had a seizure or blackout at the time of the accident, and that claimant's history made it unlikely that he suffered from epilepsy. Dr. Moore ...

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