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Efremidis v. Industrial Commission

October 18, 1999


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rakowski

Industrial Commission Division

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Thomas P. Quinn, Judge Presiding.

Claimant Anna Marie Efremidis, widow of Dimitrius Efremidis, filed an application for adjustment of claim pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1996)), alleging that her husband suffered a fatal heart attack that arose out of and in the course of his employment with employer R.G. Construction Services, Inc. The arbitrator awarded death benefits pursuant to section 7 of the Act (820 ILCS 305/7 (West 1998)). The Industrial Commission (Commission) reversed, holding that decedent's heart attack did not arise from his employment. The trial court confirmed the Commission's decision, and this appeal followed. Because we find the manifest weight of the evidence supports the finding that decedent's heart attack did not arise from his employment, we affirm.

I. Facts

Decedent was a construction laborer for employer. When decedent died, he was 47 years old, was five feet tall, and weighed 156 pounds. Decedent smoked cigarettes regularly and drank occasionally. Although he was advised to stop smoking and drinking due to hypertension and chest pains, he failed to follow this advice. He also quit taking the prescribed medications for these conditions because of side effects.

The weekend before decedent's death was the Labor Day holiday, which he and claimant spent vacationing. Claimant testified that decedent was not ill over the weekend. The following Tuesday morning, September 7, 1993, claimant and decedent awoke at approximately 4:15 a.m. and drank some coffee before decedent left for work at 4:45 a.m. Claimant prepared a lunch for decedent consisting of a sandwich, cookies, fruit juice, and water. Claimant testified that decedent was happy and talkative and did not appear sick.

At work that day, decedent and his co-worker, Antonio Rosales, began a new project for employer involving the installation of a synthetic plaster system on the exterior of a new retail store. Both were responsible for transporting and setting up scaffolding along one side of the new building.

Rosales testified that when he arrived at employer's facility at approximately 6:30 a.m., decedent was there waiting for him. Soon after, he and decedent began loading the scaffolding equipment onto a truck with a flatbed measuring 8 feet by 14 feet. Rosales estimated that it took them 1 ½ to 2 hours to load 40 to 50, 45-pound scaffold frames; 60, 12-pound cross-braces; 25 to 30, 15-pound screw jacks; 60 to 70, 16-foot wood planks measuring 2 inches by 10 inches; and several 30-pound rolls of black paper. With the aid of decedent's direction, Rosales loaded most of the materials by forklift. Decedent also placed wooden blocks between the equipment as spacers.

After driving to the work site, decedent and Rosales spent about 20 minutes clearing small stones from where the scaffold was to be assembled. After Rosales laid black paper on the ground, Rosales and decedent unloaded the screw jacks and placed them in seven-foot intervals. When they unloaded the scaffolding frames from the truck, decedent stood on the truck's flatbed and brought the equipment to the rear of the truck where he handed it to Rosales on the ground. Rosales then carried the pieces to the building for assembly. Because the scaffolding was to stretch for approximately 70 to 80 feet, decedent had about two to three minutes to rest between each handoff. Decedent left the truck to help carry the planks and the 12-pound cross-braces to the scaffolding frames. When unloading the planks, each carried one at a time, and when unloading the braces, each carried four or five at a time. Decedent also assisted Rosales in attaching the cross-braces to the frames.

By 12 noon, the first level of the scaffolding was assembled, and Rosales and decedent broke for a half-hour lunch. When they resumed work at 12:30 p.m., decedent remained on the flatbed to hand the scaffolding equipment to Rosales, who, by that time, was working on top of the first level of the assembled scaffolding, approximately 7 ½ feet above the ground. For Rosales to reach the truck, they placed a plank between the scaffolding and the truck's flatbed. Similar to before, decedent brought the scaffolding equipment from the front of the truck to the rear. Only instead of handing the materials down to Rosales, decedent had to lift the materials a few feet above the flatbed, as the flatbed was 3 ½ feet lower than the first level of scaffolding. Rosales carried and assembled the framing. As with the first level assembly, decedent had a few minutes to rest between each handoff due to the time it took Rosales to traverse the length of the scaffolding and assemble the parts. This continued for about a half-hour.

At approximately 1 p.m., decedent placed the frame he was carrying down on the bed of the truck, tried to balance himself on the frames remaining behind him, and slowly fell backward. Rosales called to decedent and went to massage him in an attempt to wake him. Rosales testified that decedent looked yellowish and pale and that he felt hot but not sweaty. Receiving no response, Rosales quickly found others to call an ambulance. All attempts to revive decedent by the paramedics and the physician in the emergency room failed.

Rosales testified that the temperature that day ranged between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit while the paramedics recorded the temperature at 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Even though Rosales described their work that day as lighter than usual, he also testified that it made them feel hot.

The Cook County coroner performed an autopsy and determined decedent's death was caused by coronary atherosclerosis. The coroner found diffuse atherosclerosis with focal areas of 80% narrowing in both the anterior descending branch and circumflex branch of the left coronary artery. Likewise, the coroner found generalized atherosclerosis with focal areas of 70% narrowing in the right coronary artery. The coroner also noted that the myocardium had an area of fibrosis consistent with a remote myocardial infarction (heart attack) in the posterolateral wall of the left ventricle.

Dr. Nathaniel Greenberg testified by deposition on behalf of claimant. Dr. Greenberg's practice focusses on the diagnosis of patients with cardiovascular disease. He has also testified in matters involving the treatment and diagnosis of cardiovascular disease. Although he is board certified in internal medicine, he is not ...

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