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12/30/96 JACQUELINE L. MCRAE v. INDUSTRIAL

December 30, 1996

JACQUELINE L. MCRAE, APPELLEE,
v.
THE INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION ET SEQ. (VENTURE STORES, INC., APPELLANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 95-MR-212. Hon. David R. Herndon, Judge, presiding.

The Honorable Justice Rakowski delivered the opinion of the court: McCULLOUGH, P.j., and Holdridge, J., concur. Justice Rarick, dissenting: Colwell, J., joins in this dissent.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rakowski

JUSTICE RAKOWSKI delivered the opinion of the court:

Claimant Jacqueline L. McRae filed an application for adjustment of claim pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1994)) for low back injuries allegedly sustained on March 21, 1991, while working for Venture Stores, Inc. (Venture). The arbitrator awarded claimant eight weeks' temporary total disability (TTD) and 25% permanent partial disability (PPD), upon finding a causal connection between claimant's condition of ill-being and a work-related accident. The Industrial Commission (Commission) reversed and vacated the arbitrator's award. The circuit court reversed the decision of the Commission and reinstated the decision of the arbitrator. The issues presented are whether the decision of the Commission is against the manifest weight of the evidence and whether the arbitrator abused his discretion in admitting uncertified medical records into evidence. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the circuit court and reinstate the Commission's decision.

FACTS

Claimant worked for Venture as a scanner, which required claimant to scan UPC bar codes and repeatedly lift heavy boxes of merchandise. On March 21, 1991, claimant stopped working for Venture because of severe low back pain. On March 25, 1991, claimant went to the hospital emergency room, where she was seen by Dr. R. Anthony Marrese. Dr. Marrese's report states in pertinent part: "Patient claims she has pain in her low back shooting into both hips, going down her left leg far worse than her right. She denies any accident that may have brought this on. The patient states she has had problems with her back intermittently for six years but has been severe the last six weeks." Claimant testified that she did not tell Dr. Marrese about any specific incident at work, but she did tell him that repetitive lifting and bending at work seemed to bother her.

On March 26, 1991, claimant underwent surgery for excision of a herniated disc. On April 5, 1991, claimant returned to the hospital for the removal of stitches. She reported no pain and said she was "feeling great." The hospital records from May 17, 1991, show an improvement in back pain and occasional numbness of the feet. On July 9, 1991, claimant returned to the hospital with complaints of back pain. Dr. Thin performed lumbar epidural blocks and prescribed medication to ease the pain.

On June 5, 1992, approximately 14 months after the alleged work accident, claimant returned to the hospital to see Dr. Marrese for back pain. Dr. Marrese's report states: "Patient was injured at Venture. States she had to do lifting on a daily basis and she felt this was what resulted in her having to have back surgery. *** Repeated bending at Venture may well have caused her condition of ill being, that is[,] the ruptured disc." This is the first and only reference in any of the medical records that suggests claimant sustained an injury at work or that her condition is causally related to a work accident.

At arbitration, claimant admitted she had preexisting low back pain prior to her employment with Venture. Between January 1987 and 1989, claimant received treatment for her back and neck from chiropractor Dr. Stewart Smith. Dr. Smith's records reveal that claimant was involved in two car accidents; one in 1972, the other in 1987. Claimant also was treated for back problems by Dr. Norman Taylor approximately six months prior to beginning work for Venture. On March 5, 1990, Dr. Taylor diagnosed claimant with a chronic low back syndrome, noting that she has had back problems "off and on for many years." The arbitrator admitted the records of Dr. Smith and Dr. Taylor over claimant's objections.

Claimant also testified that on March 26, 1991, she called Jan Stamper, Venture's assistant human resource manager, to inform her that she could no longer work at Venture because of the bending and lifting requirements of the job. However, claimant did not tell Stamper that she had been injured at work. Moreover, Stamper testified that claimant did not report a back injury to her, and that Stamper had no notice of the claim until March 1992.

Claimant's supervisor, Joyce Haun, testified that claimant did not inform her of a work-related back injury or fill out an accident report. Claimant testified she understood the procedures for reporting work-related accidents to be that if she is doing a job and then gets hurt, she must report it as an incident or accident. To be sure, claimant filed incident reports in the past for two previous, unrelated injuries.

The arbitrator found claimant sustained an aggravation of a preexisting condition as the result of a work-related repetitive trauma. He awarded claimant eight weeks' TTD and 25% PPD. The Commission reversed and vacated the arbitrator's decision on the basis that claimant did not sustain an injury causally related to her employment. The Commission relied on the fact that claimant had a long history of back problems and that the medical evidence did not make any reference to a work-related injury until 14 months after the alleged accident. The circuit court reversed the Commission's decision and reinstated the decision of the arbitrator. The court held, "The manifest weight of the evidence in this case is embodied in the only expression of opinion relative to the issue of causation wherein the treating surgeon said, 'Repeated bending at Venture may well have caused her condition of ill being, that is[,] the ruptured disc.'"

ANALYSIS

A. Manifest Weight of the ...


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