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Pinckneyville Community Hospital v. Industrial Commission

March 30, 2006


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Perry County. No. 03-MR-33 Honorable Dennis G. Hatch, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Goldenhersh

Claimant, Mary Downen, sought benefits pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 2004)) for injuries allegedly sustained in the course of her employment for Pinckneyville Community Hospital, the employer. The arbitrator found that claimant failed to prove she had sustained accidental injuries arising out of and in the course of her employment. See 820 ILCS 305/19(b) (West 2004). On review, the Illinois Industrial Commission (Commission) *fn1 reversed the decision of the arbitrator and awarded claimant benefits for temporary total disability (TTD), total permanent disability, and medical expenses. The circuit court of Perry County confirmed the decision of the Commission.

On appeal, the employer raises these issues: (1) whether the Commission erred in finding that an accident occurred which arose out of and in the course of claimant's employment and (2) whether the finding of causation by the Commission was in error. We affirm.


Claimant suffered an intracerebral hemorrhage and stroke while giving a speech at a dinner. Claimant had been a nurse at Pinckneyville Community Hospital for 25 years. For more than a decade, she had served as the director of nurses. Her speech was to honor a retiring physician.

Claimant described her job duties. She testified that unless there was an unusual workload, her typical work schedule was from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. She stated that she would go to work on Saturday to catch up with her chores or help in the emergency room if it was short on personnel. Claimant testified that she often stayed late in the evenings. She also stated that a couple times a month, she would stay until 2 or 3 in the morning if the staffing was short or there was an overload of patients.

As a part of her job duties as supervisor, claimant was responsible for contacting other nurses to fill in for sick nurses and if no one was available, she would do the work herself. Claimant testified she typically received two or three phone calls a day at home for work problems. She stated that she took off a week in November 1997 for vacation, but other than a day or two at a time to work at home, she had not taken a vacation for six years before that.

Claimant began her tenure as the director of nurses in 1986. In 1997 John Schubert became the administrative chief executive officer (CEO) for the employer and instituted changes. Schubert decided that the hospital should undergo a new accreditation and wanted claimant to coordinate the process. He formed a committee known as Administrative Team Members, or ATM. Claimant became responsible for five more departments when Schubert set up the ATM committee. After several months, Schubert switched claimant to a salaried pay, which decreased claimant's income. The number of telephone calls from work that claimant received at home increased, and she would have to return to work at least once a week.

In 1998, Dr. Cawvey, a longtime member of the hospital staff, retired. Claimant and two other nurses made arrangements for a retirement dinner to be held at Red Hawk Country Club in Pinckneyville. The evening began with an open house for the public that lasted two hours. At approximately 6 p.m., the dinner commenced with just the board, the medical staff, ATM, and their guests. The board approved a certain amount for the costs associated with the dinner.

Claimant testified that prior to Schubert becoming chief of staff, she had experienced occasional headaches and back and neck pain, accompanied by trouble sleeping. She stated that after Schubert became administrator, her problems with headaches and sleeplessness increased. Claimant testified that she also became short-tempered.

Claimant testified that she was nervous about her speech because it was being given on short notice and she wanted to be sure that she said everything "just right." She described how she came to give the speech:

"Q. [Attorney for claimant:] Can you tell us how that came about that you gave a speech or were going to give one of the speeches?
A. Well, we were having the ATM meeting on Thursdays then, and on that Thursday, Mr. Schubert said, [']I think[']B
Mr. Schubert said, [']I think someone from the committee should give a speech.['] And one of the other ones, I don't know for sure who, said, [']Well, Mary should do that because she's the nursing director.['] And, see, I had worked longest with Dr. Cawvey, and he said that he thinks that would be appropriate as the director of nurses.

Q. Who is he?

A. Oh, Mr. Schubert said that.

Q. You said you didn't want to give the speech. I asked you why you didn't want to give the speech?
A. Well, I don't like to speak in public, anyway, and it was short notice, and I just felt like I didn't have time to work on anything decent, and I felt like he was expecting me to not do well.
Q. From your standpoint, from your perception, what was different about talking at the retirement dinner, as opposed to these nursing meetings?
A. Well, at the nurse's meetings and those classes, they wereBI was responsible for that. It was my job, and they were all, I don't know, is [']subordinate['] the right word? They were all less than me, as far as status. I was their boss.
And so with theBwith the speech for Mr. Cawvey, it was all medical staff and board members and their husbandsBand their spouses, so it was like a higher level that I was talking to, and that's all."

When claimant stood up to give her speech, her head hurt and she heard a roaring sound in her ears. About halfway through the speech, she lost sight in one of her eyes and then lost consciousness.

John Schubert testified that he was the administrative CEO for the employer at the time of the incident. He testified that once it had been decided there would be a retirement dinner for Dr. Cawvey, he handed the planning over to a nurse named Norma Gordon. Schubert testified that he did not create the agenda or order anyone to speak at the event, and he did not direct or require any employees to attend the event.

Dr. Fozard, the claimant's family physician, personally witnessed the incident. Dr. Fozard testified:

"Q. [Attorney for claimant:] What sort of history did you acquire from [claimant]?
A. Well, actually, I was at a meeting that [claimant] was at on that evening, a retirement dinner for my senior partner. And [claimant] was in the process of giving a speech, and she had a headache before the speech started, and the headache got progressively worse during the speech.
[Claimant] was unable to continue the speech, got light- headed, nauseated, [and] actually threw up a large amount at the dinner.
And we called an ambulance and I rode with [claimant] in the ambulance to the hospital. I treated [claimant] in the emergency room, did a CAT scan, [and] determined that [claimant] had a pretty good sized ...

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