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Village of Villa Park v. The Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

December 31, 2013


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County No. 10-MR-000027 Honorable Kenneth L. Popejoy, Judge, Presiding.

JUSTICE HOFFMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Holdridge and Justices Hudson, Harris, and Stewart concurred in the judgment and opinion.



¶ 1 The Village of Villa Park (Village), appeals from an order of the circuit court confirming a decision of the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) that awarded the claimant, John Simons, benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 2006)), after finding that his injury arose out of and in the course of his employment. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

¶ 2 The following facts are taken from the evidence presented at the arbitration hearing conducted on September 17, 2008, and October 8, 2008. The claimant testified that he was employed by the Village as a Community Service Officer. His duties included handling ordinance complaints, theft reports, various noncriminal in-progress calls, accident reports, parking enforcement, police officer backup, and other duties.

¶ 3 On April 5, 2007, the claimant was at work and on duty in the police station to which he was assigned. Around 6 or 7 p.m., he was upstairs in the watch commander's office for a briefing, after which the claimant and another officer began walking towards the back side of the building. The claimant stated that he turned and started walking down the rear stairwell to the locker room on the lower level. When he reached the third step, his right knee "gave out, " causing him to fall down about seven stairs to the landing below, sustaining injuries to his right knee and lower back.

¶ 4 The claimant testified that the back stairwell consisted of about 10 steps, a landing, and then another 10 steps to the lower level. The lower level contained the locker rooms, the briefing room, the lunch area, and the shooting range. The locker rooms were for the use of the police officers and were not open to the general public. The claimant described the lower level as a secured area and stated that the building entrance was accessible only with a pass key.

¶ 5 On a typical work day, the claimant would enter the building through the back door and descend the stairs to the locker room in order to change from his civilian clothes to his uniform. He would walk back up the stairs to the mailbox area to check for any pertinent information, then return downstairs to the lower level for his briefing meeting. The claimant testified that, before his shift even began, he would have traversed the back stairs at least two to four times. At the end of the day, the claimant would again descend the stairs to the locker room to change into his civilian clothes. According to the claimant, during most days, he would also traverse the stairs to go to the lunch room for his breaks or lunch to get a soda, or to get rain gear or other equipment he needed for his duties.

¶ 6 The claimant described an earlier accident which injured his right knee. On January 13, 2007, he was at his vacation home in Wisconsin when he slipped on a patch of ice. Later that day, he fell off of a pile of wood and twisted the same knee. After one or two days, his knee still did not feel normal. According to the claimant, he then informed his supervisors about his injury and left to go to Elmhurst Hospital, where he was treated by his personal physician, Dr. Karim Yunez. An MRI was subsequently ordered which revealed a small joint effusion with complex tears to the anterior horn, posterior horn and body of the lateral meniscus. Dr. Yunez referred the claimant to Dr. William Hadesman, an orthopedic surgeon. On March 6, 2007, based upon the results of the MRI, Dr. Hadesman recommended that the claimant undergo knee surgery. The claimant agreed, and the surgery was scheduled for May 2, 2007. Dr. Hadesman also prescribed Norco for the claimant's pain. The claimant subsequently returned to regular duty at work while waiting to undergo the recommended knee surgery.

¶ 7 The claimant testified that the injury to his right knee on January 13, 2007, was the only injury he sustained to the knee prior to his fall on April 5, 2007. He described his knee pain following the events of January 13, 2007, as intermittent and not incapacitating, but testified that when he engaged in strenuous activity, he would feel a burning, sore sensation.

¶ 8 Robert Budig testified that he was employed by the Village as the Deputy Chief of Police and that he worked in the same police station as the claimant. According to Budig, on numerous occasions during the period between January 13, 2007, and April 5, 2007, he observed the claimant walking with a limp. Budig discussed the limp with the claimant, who told him that it was caused by the fall at his cabin in January. Budig's testimony was contradicted by that of Officer Scott Schroeder, who testified that he did not notice the claimant limping prior to the April 5 accident.

¶ 9 The claimant stated that, on April 5, 2007, as he began descending the steps, he "knew something was wrong." His knee then gave out in a way that it never had before. He stated that, after falling down the stairs and impacting the landing, he felt pain in his lower back and a sharp, throbbing pain in his knee, which began to swell. The claimant immediately sought treatment in the emergency room at Elmhurst Hospital. The following day, he saw Dr. Yunez for his back pain. He subsequently returned to Dr. Hadesman, who, on April 17, 2007, prescribed a lumbar MRI and a repeat MRI for his knee. The MRI on the claimant's knee disclosed an undersurface tear in the posterior horn of the meniscus which was unchanged from the previous scan. The lumbar MRI disclosed some hypertrophy of the facet joints posteriorly at L4-L5 and L5-S1 and some focal disc herniation and spinal stenosis, but no significant disc desiccation, bulging or herniation The claimant testified that he was given authorization to be off of work by both Dr. Yunez for his back condition and Dr. Hadesman for his knee.

¶ 10 The claimant testified that, after the April 5 fall, he was no longer able to function the way he had previously. He suffered a loss of range of motion in his knee and initially walked with a limp. According to the claimant, he had never injured his back prior to the April 5 fall. He indicated that, prior to the April 5 fall, he was experiencing pain at a level of 1 or 2 out of 10 and that, after the fall, the pain was elevated to an 8 or 9. The combination of the injury to his back and knee prevented him from performing any type of physical activity.

ΒΆ 11 The claimant testified that, at the time of the hearing, he suffered from constant back pain which varied depending on the level of his physical activity. If he sat for long periods of time, he had to get up and stretch because his back is sore. He testified that his knee also becomes sore and needs to be stretched out when he is stationary for long periods. The claimant stated that he is no longer able to perform various activities around his home, such as those requiring heavy lifting, and that he is no longer able to run or squat. The claimant testified that, prior to the April 5 fall, he was able to run, squat, and suffered none of the above limitations. After the claimant's May 2, 2007, right knee surgery, Dr. Yunez prescribed physical therapy for the claimant's back. According to the claimant, the prescribed ...

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