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Mobil Oil Corp. v. Industrial Commission

February 01, 2002


Appeal From The Circuit Court of Will County No. 00 MR 99 Honorable William Penn, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hoffman.


Mobil Oil Corporation (Mobil) appeals from an order of the circuit court of Will County confirming a decision of the Industrial Commission (Commission) which awarded the claimant, David Haberkorn, benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1996)). For the reasons which follow, we affirm the circuit court's order in part and reverse it in part, vacate the Commission's decision in part, and remand this cause to the Commission.

The claimant filed an application for adjustment of claim seeking benefits under the Act for injuries he alleged that he received on July 17, 1997, while working for Mobil. Thereafter, he filed a petition seeking an emergency hearing pursuant to section 19(b-1) of the Act (820 ILCS 305/19(b-1) (West 1998)), alleging that Mobil refused to pay temporary total disability (TTD) benefits and also refused to pay for his medical expenses. The following facts are taken from the evidence presented at the arbitration hearing.

The claimant was a machinist in the employ of Mobil. In 1990, he developed low back and leg pain from causes unrelated to his employment and underwent a laminotomy at L5-S1. By 1992, his symptoms had subsided, and he returned to unrestricted work.

In January of 1997, the claimant again developed low back and leg pain and sought treatment with Dr. Karla R. Shively. Dr. Shively prescribed medication and a course of physical therapy. At the suggestion of Dr. Shively, the claimant underwent an MRI of the lumbar spine on February 14, 1997. The report of that test states that no evidence suggesting a recurrent herniated disc was detected but that contrast enhancement of the soft tissue density at L5-S1 was consistent with fibrotic changes and associated deformity of the lateral aspect of the thecal sac. On February 17, 1997, Dr. Shively referred the claimant to Dr. Keith Rezin, an orthopedic surgeon, for evaluation.

The claimant first saw Dr. Rezin on March 4, 1997. After examining the claimant and reviewing his medical records, Dr. Rezin was of the impression that the claimant had S1 radiculopathy. In a report of that visit, Dr. Rezin noted that, although the claimant's MRI of February 14 showed soft tissue findings at L5-S1 which the radiologist read as a scar, he was not convinced that the condition was all scar.

The claimant continued to treat with Dr. Rezin, who prescribed medication and a series of epidural injections. Dr. Rezin's notes of the claimant's visit on March 31, 1997, state that, although he reported some minimal posterior calf pain, the claimant was able to walk with a good gait. Dr. Rezin's impression on that date was that the claimant had a "[r]esolving S1 radiculopathy." Dr. Rezin released the claimant to return to light-duty work for two to three weeks and then to full, unrestricted duty. On April 21, 1997, the claimant returned to full-duty work.

From April 21, 1997, through July 17, 1997, the claimant sought no medical treatment but did exercise at Mobil's wellness center in an effort to stay in shape. On June 12, 1997, the claimant completed a health questionnaire, stating that he had no health concerns at that time.

On July 17, 1997, the claimant was engaged in a fire fighting training exercise at work. According to the claimant, he was holding a water hose under his arm and on his right hip. As he opened the nozzle, the water pressure caused the hose to break loose. The claimant testified that, when the hose broke lose, he was jerked backwards and felt a pain or snap in his back. The claimant stated that, during his lunch break, he visited Mobil's wellness center but was unable to do his regular exercises due to the pain in his back.

Friday, July 18, 1997, was the claimant's scheduled day off. The claimant testified that he refrained from any physical activity that day due to soreness and stiffness in his back. He stated that, by July 19, 1997, he felt pain and numbness radiating down his left leg into his foot and toes.

The claimant went to work on Monday, July 21, 1997, and notified George Kraft, a supervisor, that he had been injured while operating a fire hose on July 17, 1997. He gave a similar account of his injury in an accident report he completed on July 25, 1997, and in the history that he gave to a plant nurse on that same day.

On July 21, 1997, the claimant went to Dr. Rezin's office, where he was examined by Dr. Stephen H. Treacy. Dr. Treacy's note of that visit states that the claimant informed him that he hurt his back at work when he turned on a fire hose and that the pain was getting worse. Dr. Treacy examined the claimant and recorded, inter alia, that he demonstrated no paraspinal spasm, had significant decrease on forward flexation secondary to pain, and experienced pain when attempting straight raises with either leg. Dr. Treacy's impression was that the claimant had a "[r]ecurrence of symptoms". He prescribed physical therapy and pain medication.

Dr. Treacy next saw the claimant on August 4, 1997, at which time the claimant reported that he was feeling better but still experienced pain and stiffness in his left leg with numbness in his toes. Dr. Treacy's examination of the claimant on that date revealed no paraspinal spasms and excellent motor strength, but continued back pain when straight leg raises were attempted. Dr. Treacy signed a note authorizing the claimant to remain off work.

On August 18, 1997, the claimant returned to work duties for the first time since his accident. He performed light-duty and sedentary jobs for Mobil from August 18, 1997, through April 5, 1998.

The claimant saw Dr. Rezin on August 21, 1997. Dr. Rezin recorded that the claimant stated that he continued to have some back and leg pain. Dr. Rezin's examination of the claimant on that date revealed "some pain in the S1 nerve root distribution" and "pain with straight leg raising." Dr. Rezin recommended an EMG to rule out radiculopathy.

On recommendation from Dr. Rezin, Dr Steven V. Lekah performed EMG/NCV tests upon the claimant on September 10, 1997. In his report of those tests, Dr. Lekah noted evidence of an "old S1 radiculopathy" and arrived at the following conclusion:

"Normal study. More specifically, there is no evidence of lumbosacral radiculopathy in the left lower extremity and no evidence of neuropathy."

When the claimant next saw Dr. Rezin on September 23, 1997, he still complained of numbness in his left foot and occasional pain in his left leg. Dr. Rezin recommended that the claimant undergo a myelogram and a post-myelogram CT scan.

On October 14, 1997, Dr. Rezin sent a letter to Mobil wherein he opined that the claimant had reached his pre-injury state and would not need surgical intervention. He also opined that the symptoms that the claimant experienced were causally related to his work injury. In that letter, Dr. Rezin stated that, other than a restriction against ...

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