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05/17/96 RUTH SORENSON v. INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION ET

May 17, 1996

RUTH SORENSON, APPELLANT,
v.
THE INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION ET AL. (CHICAGO BOARD OF EDUCATION, APPELLEE).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Alexander P. White, Judge Presiding.

The Honorable Justice Rakowski delivered the opinion of the court: McCULLOUGH, P.j., and Colwell, Holdridge, and Rarick, JJ., concurring.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rakowski

The Honorable Justice RAKOWSKI delivered the opinion of the court:

Claimant, Ruth Sorenson, filed an application for adjustment of claim pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1994)) for injuries to her back that she allegedly sustained on September 12, 1986, while working for the Chicago Board of Education (employer). The arbitrator found that claimant sustained a lumbar strain that arose out of and in the course of her employment. Based on this injury, he awarded claimant 19 4/7 weeks of temporary total disability (TTD) benefits, $357 in medical expenses, and 10% loss of use of the person as whole, stating "Petitioner's continuing complaints are attributable only in small part to the residual effects of the lumbar strain suffered in 1986." Somewhat contradicting this award, the arbitrator stated earlier in his decision, "there is no causal connection between Petitioner's present state of ill-being and her accident of September 12, 1986." This statement was made before the arbitrator proceeded to discuss claimant's surgery, about which he stated, "Petitioner's surgery was necessitated, according to her treating physician, by the presence of an osteophyte which pressed on the nerve. There is no evidence that such a condition can arise out of the type of injury sustained by Petitioner in 1986." The arbitrator awarded no benefits for the surgery. The Industrial Commission (the Commission) affirmed, increasing medical benefits to $562. On administrative review, the circuit court of Cook County set aside the Commission's decision on medical expenses, affirmed on all other matters, and remanded on the issue of medical benefits.

On remand, the Commission increased the medical award to $2,751. Although it found that a causal connection exists between the September 12, 1986, accident and petitioner's low back strain, radiculopathy and need for medical care for those conditions, it did not find any causal connection between her osteophyte condition and her employment or need for medical care. In conclusion, the Commission stated, "The Commission finds Petitioner failed to prove her osteophyte condition or need for surgery were causally connected to her employment and therefore is not entitled to any medical expenses related to this condition, including the February 1, 1988 laminectomy procedure." The circuit court modified, awarding claimant $3,427.63 in medical benefits. Claimant appeals.

Claimant, a kindergarten teacher for 35 years, was 68 years old on the date of the accident. According to claimant, on September 12, 1986, she was attempting to move a pile of books. As she lifted the books, "[she] felt this sharp pain in the back." Claimant stated the pile weighed 25 to 30 pounds. Claimant continued to work the rest of that day and for approximately one month thereafter. On October 14, 1986, she requested a leave of absence until October 20, 1987. She retired on September 1, 1987, retroactive to June 19, 1987.

Claimant testified to the medical treatment she received, which is detailed below. After receiving treatment in October and November 1986, she still suffered from pain in her back which extended down her left leg. Claimant continued with treatment and in April of 1987, she was not much improved and still had pain in her back going down her left leg. Surgery was performed on February 1, 1988. Following surgery, claimant thought she was getting better; however, the problems returned. She performed home exercises and swam, which relieved the pain temporarily.

At the time of the arbitration, she stated she could no longer do the things she would like to do. She testified she was in constant pain in her back and left leg. She experienced numbness in the left leg, and the front of it had no feeling. She walked off balance and because of this used a cane. She testified that her husband did all the chores around the house.

Claimant first sought treatment on September 24, 1986, 12 days after the accident. She saw Dr. Thomas Gleason, relating the accident and stating she previously suffered from low back problems that were asymptomatic at the time of the accident. She complained of intermittent pain across the low back, worse on the left, which radiated down her left thigh. She also stated her left leg was weak. Dr. Gleason found decreased sensation over S1. X rays showed mild degenerative disc disease with mild facet sclerosis. He diagnosed lumbar syndrome, probably secondary to strain and arthritis of the lumbar spine.

The X-ray report of September 24, 1986, indicates findings of a narrowing of the interspace between L5-S1, mild degenerative arthritic changes involving the articulating facets of the S1 and L5, more so on the right, and spurs in the margins of the vertebral bodies of the lumbar spine.

Claimant saw Dr. T. S. Wright on October 3, 1986. She gave a history of her accident and stated her problems were worsening. Dr. Wright reviewed the X ray of September 24, 1986, and performed an examination. He diagnosed lumbosacral strain with spasticity of the para spinal erector muscles and mild bilateral sciatic syndrome. He ordered treatment with diathermy. Claimant underwent 10 treatments from October 6 to November 6, 1987. At this time, the records indicate she stopped treatment.

Dr. John Gleason, affiliated with Dr. Thomas Gleason, saw claimant on October 8, 1986. At this time, she walked with no limp. However, his records do note some objective findings. Dr. John Gleason's records from October 16, 1986, render a diagnosis of lumbar strain, arthritis of the lumbar spine, and strain of the right hamstring muscle. On November 5, 1986, claimant complained of numbness and tingling in the left leg. Following an examination, Dr. John Gleason recommended a bone scan, CT scan, and EMG.

On November 12, 1986, claimant underwent a CT scan and bone scan. The CT scan report indicates a narrowing at the L5-S1 disc space. There was a vacuum phenomena at L5-S1 disc space which was compatible with degenerative disc disease. The interpreter additionally stated, "I cannot definitely identify herniated disc disease at L5-S1." He further found a 1.0 cm. sclerotic area in the left side of the body of L5.

The bone scan report showed increased activity in the mid-shaft of the left humerus, no areas of increased activity in the lumbar spine, and some areas of increased activity in the mid-posterior region of the cervical spine.

Dr. David Shenker examined claimant on December 10, 1986. She gave him a history of her accident, her continuing complaints, and her treatment. After an examination, Dr. Shenker informed claimant she most likely suffered from left S1 radiculopathy on the basis of degenerative disc disease. Because her pain had improved, he recommended no further treatment at this time.

Dr. Frederick Miller examined claimant on January 19, 1987, at employer's request. Claimant complained of a nerve in her left leg twitching, tingling above the knee, numbness, and pain in her back. The doctor stated that none of these subjective complaints were substantiated by objective findings. He opined she could return to work.

On April 29, 1987, Dr. John Gleason again saw claimant, who was favoring her left leg while walking. After noting some objective findings, he recommended she return to Dr. Shenker.

Claimant saw Dr. Shenker on June 3, 1987. Claimant stated that in February she began experiencing a burning sensation over the left anterior thigh. This lasted for a few months. Now, she experiences spasms in the left gastrocnemius muscle, low back pain, and weakness in the left leg. Dr. Shenker opined that her symptoms could be due to radiculopathy. Further, the weakness in her left leg raised the question of spinal stenosis. He recommended further diagnostic testing, in particular, a myelogram, if her condition worsened.

In August 1987, claimant saw Dr. Leonard Kranzler for a neurosurgical evaluation. She related the history of the accident, her persistent problems, and treatment. After reviewing the medical records and reports and conducting an examination, Dr. Kranzler opined that claimant suffered from sciatica ...


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