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Flynn v. Industrial Commission

December 31, 1998

JANE E. FLYNN, APPELLANT,
v.
INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION ET AL. (TAKATA/GATEWAY, INC., RESPONDENT-APPELLEE).



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rakowski

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Honorable John A. Ward, Judge Presiding.

Claimant, Jane E. Flynn, filed an application for adjustment before the Industrial Commission (Commission) pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1996)), seeking death benefits from Takata/Gateway, Inc. (employer) for the death of her husband, Jackson Flynn (decedent). Decedent died as a result of an extensive myocardial infarction, or heart attack. Claimant argued that prolonged, chronic stress related to decedent's work was a causative factor of decedent's heart attack. The arbitrator found that claimant's heart attack arose out of and in the course of his employment. However, on review, the Commission reversed the arbitrator's decision, finding that the heart attack did not arise out of and in the course of his employment. Claimant appealed to the circuit court, which confirmed the Commission's decision. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 301, allowing appeals from final judgments. 155 Ill. 2d R. 301. For the following reasons, we affirm.

FACTS

Employer manufacturers seat belts for automotive companies. Decedent was vice president of Material Control and Data Processing when he died from a heart attack on July 30, 1989. Decedent was 55 years old.

There was no evidence before decedent's death that unequivocally showed he suffered from coronary heart disease. In 1984, decedent underwent a treadmill stress test the results of which were not entirely normal partly because decedent never reached his target heart rate. In 1988, decedent was approximately six feet, four inches tall and weighed approximately 261 pounds; his cholesterol level was 146. Decedent's blood pressure was within normal range at 120 over 80. At the time of death, he was not taking any medications other than two aspirins daily. He did not smoke and drank alcohol occasionally. The only known factors that could have contributed to coronary heart disease in decedent's case were that decedent's father died from a myocardial infarction at age 55 and that decedent was moderately obese.

Four months prior to death, decedent was subjected to a number of stressful circumstances of both a personal and work-related nature. In December 1988, decedent's pregnant daughter was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. The doctors were unable to treat the disease until after she gave birth. To lend support, claimant frequently visited their daughter in Alabama during the week and returned home for the weekends. In addition to decedent's daughter being ill, claimant was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 1989 and underwent a mastectomy soon after. Decedent's co-workers testified that decedent was very concerned about his daughter and claimant's health during this time period.

At work, decedent was also subjected to stressful situations. In April and March 1989, employer, known as Gateway at that time, was being bought by Takata, Inc. Because Takata neither terminated the staff nor extended employment contracts to them, decedent was concerned about his job security.

Decedent was also facing the busiest period of the year for employer. Each year when the automobile companies introduced new models, employer had to re-tool and redesign its seat belt components to satisfy the new automobile models. This period, stretching from June to August, was called the "launch period" or "change over." Because this time of year was so busy, vacations were frowned upon and discouraged. However, testimony showed that this year was not any busier than past years; rather, it was actually one of the easier launch periods employer had seen. Nevertheless, decedent's job during this period was demanding. He was not only responsible for ensuring that the components reached employer's factories on time for assembly, but he was also responsible for ensuring that the purchasers received the employer's product on time. However, decedent was not under any specific deadline or involved with any specific project other than launching the new product line as he did in previous years.Theodore Cunningham, decedent's assistant, testified that the computer system was antiquated and insufficient and that it crashed three times during the 1989 launch period causing delays. Other testimony from Frank Frick, former president of the company, and Alan Kromer, chief financial officer, asserted that the computer was sufficient for decedent's purposes, although inadequate for the accounting department. According to Kromer, decedent never complained that the computer system prevented him from doing his job.

Cunningham also intimated that decedent was held responsible for other department's delays and mistakes that would ultimately affect his department's schedule. Nonetheless, other testimony established that decedent was not a "lightening rod" for the company's problems and that he was not held responsible for situations out of his control.

Although claimant and Cunningham testified that decedent worked longer hours during the launch period, other testimony established that decedent worked no more than his usual 8 a.m. to 5-5:15 p.m. day. Decedent also worked three or four hours on three out of four Saturdays per month, as he did throughout his career. Saturdays were days in which employees would clean their desk, update filing, or perform general administrative tasks. They were not typical work days.

Claimant and Cunningham also recalled that decedent appeared tired during the 1989 launch period, although others testified that decedent appeared normal. According to claimant, decedent talked about work more than ever and that he was trying hard so the company would look good to the new owners. In February 1989, decedent quit taking lunch time walks with Frank Frick, and he quit walking with claimant. Claimant also noted that he seemed to be gaining weight during the launch period.

The day before decedent died, Saturday July 29, 1989, decedent went to the office as usual and returned home early in the afternoon. No evidence suggests that decedent performed any unusual task.

The next day, decedent and claimant went to mass at 7 a.m. After mass, decedent did not feel well and was perspiring profusely. Decedent requested that claimant drive, at which time claimant took decedent to the hospital. Decedent also told claimant at ...


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