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Fickas v. The Industrial Commission

January 6, 2000


Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 98MR71 Honorable Donald M. Cadagin, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Colwell

Claimant, Joe Fickas, appeals an order of the circuit court of Sangamon County affirming a finding of the Industrial Commission (Commission) that claimant's cubital tunnel syndrome was not causally related to his work-related accident. Claimant maintains that the Commission's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm.

Claimant worked as a construction worker for respondent, Evans Construction. He suffered on-the-job injuries when he fell from a scaffold in July 1996 and subsequently filed an application for adjustment of claim against respondent pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1996)). An arbitration hearing was held in September 1997 at which the following evidence was introduced.

On July 2, 1996, claimant, working on a project for respondent, stood on scaffold three or four stories above ground. The scaffold was comprised of four long boards. As claimant attempted to walk from one end of the scaffold to the other, he stepped on a loose board which dropped under his foot. Consequently, the other end of the board shot up "like a teeter-totter" and hit him in the face. He began to fall from the scaffold but somehow caught himself. However, since the blow to the face caused him to black out, claimant could not remember exactly how he caught himself. He continued working for 15 to 30 minutes after the accident but went home when his right arm began feeling numb. He had difficulty sleeping that night.

The following morning, claimant went to the emergency room at St. John's Hospital, where he received treatment to his right shoulder. The emergency records state: "The patient is a 30-year-old white male who *** came in complaining of severe pain in his right shoulder after somehow twisting his right shoulder while falling through a scaffold at work. He stated he felt sudden intense pain at the time."

Claimant visited Dr. John Meyer, his family doctor, on July 8. Dr. Meyer's notes indicated that claimant complained of right arm and shoulder pain and tingling in the first three digits of his right hand. Dr. Meyer referred claimant to Dr. Michael Watson, an orthopedic surgeon, and would not see claimant again until December 20, 1996.

Dr. Watson examined claimant on numerous occasions between July 30, 1996, and June 12, 1997. Dr. Watson's records revealed that claimant persistently complained of pain in his right shoulder and that claimant was unable to elevate his right arm for several months after the accident. By September 17, 1996, claimant continued to experience pain in his right shoulder. Dr. Watson's medical notes from that day stated: "The pain will occasionally start at the anterior aspect of the shoulder and it will occasionally start at the neck level. The pain will often shoot down the arm into the forearm region." Dr. Watson suspected that claimant suffered from a stretching of his right brachial plexus, which is a convergence point in the shoulder for nerves which run to the chest, shoulder, and arm.

Dr. Watson referred claimant to Dr. Edward Trudeau for an electromyogram (EMG). Dr. Trudeau performed the EMG and a nerve conduction study on September 18, 1996, and confirmed from those tests that claimant had a right brachial plexopathy. The EMG did not reveal any signs of cubital tunnel syndrome.

Dr. Watson examined claimant again on November 12, 1996, and noted that claimant had "some numbness and tingling into the hand and fingers and pain radiating to the elbow." Approximately one month later, Dr. Watson released claimant to light work duty.

Claimant returned to work on December 20, 1996, and reinjured his right arm. Dr. Meyer's notes of December 20 stated that claimant was experiencing tingling in his right arm and that claimant had a "tender cubital tunnel." Claimant visited Dr. Watson on January 7, 1997. Dr. Watson's notes from that date indicated that claimant "felt a snap in his shoulder with pain, numbness, and tingling in his right arm" when he pulled on something with his right arm. According to Dr. Watson, claimant reinjured his right brachial plexus on December 20.

Claimant was subsequently referred to Dr. Gordon Allen. Dr. Allen recommended another EMG, which Dr. Trudeau performed on March 17, 1997. The EMG showed improvement in claimant's brachial plexopathy. The EMG also revealed mild cubital tunnel syndrome, as claimant exhibited a "positive Tinel's sign over the ulnar aspect at the right elbow." Cubital tunnel syndrome is caused by a swelling or impingement of the ulnar nerve and results in irritation at the elbow. Dr. Trudeau recommended conservative treatment for claimant's cubital tunnel syndrome.

On March 21, 1997, Dr. Watson performed surgery on claimant's right shoulder. He found no tears in claimant's rotator cuff.

On June 3, 1997, Dr. Meyer performed a cubital tunnel release, which in his opinion was necessary to relieve pressure on claimant's ulnar nerve. Dr. Meyer testified that claimant's cubital tunnel syndrome was causally related to his July 1996 accident. Dr. Meyer also testified that Dr. Watson, in a letter to Dr. Meyer dated July 31, 1997, wrote that his (Dr. Watson's) medical records would support a finding of a causal relationship between claimant's July 1996 accident and his ulnar nerve problem. That letter cannot be found in the record.

Respondent elicited evidence that claimant had filed several workers' compensation claims prior to the instant one. For instance, in August 1993, claimant fell from a support device and suffered injuries to his legs, hands, head, and neck. He subsequently underwent three operations for carpal tunnel syndrome in his right hand. On cross-examination, Dr. Meyer admitted that, following claimant's August 1993 accident, Dr. Meyer opined that claimant would no longer be able to work as an ...

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