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Mobil Oil Corp. v. Industrial Commission

December 03, 1999

MOBIL OIL CORPORATION APPELLANT AND CROSS-APPELLEE,
V. THE INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION ET AL. (BRAD CLODI, APPELLEE AND CROSS-APPELLANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Will County. No. 98 MR 0012 Honorable William Penn, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Colwell

Claimant, Brad Clodi, was injured when he was pinned between two forklifts while in the employ of respondent, Mobil Oil Corporation. Claimant filed an application for adjustment of claim pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1992)), seeking benefits for his injuries.

Following a hearing, an arbitrator determined that respondent prematurely terminated temporary total disability (TTD) benefits to which claimant was entitled. The arbitrator also found that claimant's injuries resulted in (1) a 100% loss of the use of his left leg and (2) permanent disability to the extent of 30% of a person as a whole. On these bases, the arbitrator awarded claimant benefits under the Act. The arbitrator also awarded claimant additional compensation under sections 16, 19(k), and 19(l) of the Act. 820 ILCS 305/16, 19(k), 19(l) (West 1992).

The Industrial Commission (Commission), with one commissioner dissenting, (1) reduced the amount of TTD benefits awarded claimant, (2) determined that claimant sustained a permanent disability to the extent of only 20% of a person as a whole, and (3) vacated the award of additional compensation. The Commission otherwise affirmed the arbitrator's decision. On administrative review, the circuit court of Will County reinstated the arbitrator's finding that claimant's injuries resulted in a permanent disability to the extent of 30% of a person as a whole. In all other aspects, the court confirmed the Commission's decision.

Both parties appealed from the circuit court's order. In appeal No. 3-98-1013WC, respondent argues that the Commission's award of permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits to the extent of 20% of a person as a whole was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. In appeal No. 3-98-1014WC, claimant argues that the circuit court erred in confirming the Commission's vacation of additional compensation under sections 16, 19(k), and 19(l) of the Act. We consolidated the appeals for purposes of review. We now reverse and remand with directions.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The underlying facts are undisputed. In the summer of 1992, respondent hired claimant and his twin brother, Brian, as temporary, summer employees. Both claimant and Brian worked the midnight shift as forklift operators. On June 16, 1992, shortly after midnight, claimant was standing behind his parked forklift when he was struck by a forklift driven by Brian. Immediately after the accident, claimant noticed that his left leg had been almost completely severed. Claimant was ultimately taken to Loyola University Hospital (Loyola) for treatment.

At Loyola, it was determined that claimant suffered a severe grade 3-C left tibia fibula fracture with dyvascular limb, a left anterior column acetabular fracture, and an iliac wing fracture to the left hip. On June 16, 1992, Dr. Pietro Tonino performed a below-the-knee amputation of claimant's left leg. The following day, Dr. Michael S. Pinzur performed a debridement. On June 20, 1992, Dr. William R. Dobozi performed an open reduction and an internal fixation of claimant's displaced left anterior column acetabular fracture and of claimant's displaced left iliac wing fracture. At that time, Dr. Dobozi noted that claimant's injuries could lead to traumatic arthritis of the left hip, myositis, loss of motion, and numbness. On June 24, 1992, Dr. Pinzur performed a revision of below-the-knee amputation and closure.

During claimant's stay at Loyola, Dr. Deborah L. Couch performed a psychiatric examination of claimant. Dr. Couch noted that considering claimant's injuries, he was in fairly good spirits. Dr. Couch diagnosed claimant with post-traumatic stress disorder and adjustment disorder with mixed emotional features of depression and anxiety.

Claimant was released from Loyola on June 29, 1992. Claimant saw Dr. Pinzur on July 7, 1992. At that time, Dr. Pinzur planned to commence prosthetic limb fitting once Dr. Dobozi cleared claimant to start weight bearing. During a June 21, 1992, visit, Dr. Pinzur reported that claimant had excellent hip motion. On August 4, 1992, Dr. Pinzur noted that claimant's wound was granulating nicely and that he was getting ready to fit claimant with a preparatory limb. In his notes pertaining to claimant's August 18, 1992 appointment, Dr. Pinzur stated that claimant's wound was almost healed and that claimant was walking with a prepatory prosthesis.

Following his release from Loyola, claimant received physical therapy at St. Mary's Hospital in Kankakee, Illinois. At St. Mary's, claimant's therapy regimen included whirlpool treatments and stretching exercises.

Claimant returned to school at the start of the fall 1992 semester. While at school, claimant received physical therapy at BroMenn Regional Medical Center in Bloomington, Illinois.

In a letter dated August 25, 1992, respondent informed claimant that, "[i]nasmuch as you have been released by your doctors and have returned to school your temporary total disability benefits will be suspended." In place of TTD benefits, respondent decided to commence PPD benefits pursuant to section 8(e)12 of the Act (820 ILCS 305/8(e)12 (West 1992)), for the loss of use of claimant's left leg.

In a September 16, 1992, letter, Dr. Dobozi updated respondent on claimant's medical progress. Dr. Dobozi explained that claimant's hip was healed and that although claimant had a full range of motion in his hip, he was still undergoing physical therapy for strengthening of his thigh muscles and range of motion to his knee. Dr. Dobozi also noted that claimant was fitted with a prosthesis and was taking care of his open wound around his stump. Dr. Dobozi opined that claimant would not have problems in the future with the pelvic and acetabular fractures because those injuries had completely healed.

Claimant saw Dr. Pinzur again on March 25, 1993. At that time, Dr. Pinzur noted that although claimant suffered from a mild limp and mechanical back pain, he was functioning very well. In response to inquiries from claimant as to whether he would have been able to return to work in the fall of 1992, Dr. Pinzur opined that if claimant was a worker, he would not have been able to return to even light-duty work until the beginning of 1993.

During the summer of 1993, claimant received physical therapy at Physical Therapy Center Limited in Bradley, Illinois. Claimant last saw Dr. Pinzur on July 23, 1993. At that time, Dr. Pinzur reported that claimant was walking with very little discomfort, although he still had a slight limp. Dr. Pinzur attributed the limp to a combination of the amputation and the pelvic fracture. Dr. Pinzur then revised his estimate as to when claimant would have been able to return to work, stating that a reasonable time would have been about one year after the injury date.

In a letter dated November 4, 1994, and directed to respondent, claimant's attorney protested respondent's decision to cut off TTD benefits as of August 25, 1992. Relying on Dr. Pinzur's March 25, 1993, and July 23, 1993, treatment notes, claimant requested TTD benefits through the one-year anniversary of the accident. In response, respondent's counsel explained that it terminated claimant's TTD benefits on August 25, 1992, because (1) claimant was a seasonal employee who had planned to return to college following his summer 1992 employment with respondent and (2) claimant did return to college as scheduled. In a letter dated December 16, 1994, claimant's attorney again requested additional TTD benefits. On January 5, 1995, respondent denied claimant's request and wrote, "[i]t appears that the only way we will be able to resolve this issue is through litigation."

At the time the arbitration hearing was held on December 7, 1995, claimant was employed by Valspar Corporation as a fitness and wellness director. Claimant testified that when he returned to college in the fall of 1992, he was unable to walk without crutches. Claimant also explained that since his wound had reopened from an infection, he was required to dress the wound a couple of times a day to aid the healing process. Although claimant was fitted with a temporary prosthesis upon his return to school, it was fitted loosely so as to not irritate the amputation sight as it healed. Claimant stated that he was paranoid about having only one leg and that he was glad to have the prosthesis. Claimant's wound healed around December 1992 or January 1993. At that same time, claimant ceased using crutches.

Claimant graduated from college in May 1993 with a degree in corporate fitness, a major he elected before sustaining his injuries. Claimant explained that his injuries "really affect[]" him in his job everyday. According to claimant, because of his injuries, he cannot demonstrate or participate in many lower body exercises. Claimant testified that while he no longer suffers any pain in his hip, he does experience stiffness, lack of flexibility, and loss of range of motion in that area. Claimant attributes his limp to his hip injury because he feels his hip shift every time he walks. Claimant related that before the accident, he participated in sports such as baseball, basketball, football, and tennis.

Claimant described his relationship with Brian before the accident as competitive but close. Since the accident, claimant explained that he and Brian still get along, but it is hard for them to be around each other. Claimant also stated that he and Brian have never really discussed the accident which resulted in his injuries.

On cross-examination, claimant reiterated that he chose his major before he was involved in the accident and that he decided to retain the same major after the accident. Claimant acknowledged that in his position as corporate fitness director, he can use his disability as an asset. Claimant also admitted that during the fall 1992 semester he completed 16 credit hours of college courses. During the same semester he worked approximately ten hours per week in the college's wellness center, a position for which he was minimally compensated. In the spring 1993 semester claimant had a full-time ...


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