Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Workers' Compensation Commission Division
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 12 L 51148. Honorable Eileen Burke, Judge, Presiding.
In the matter of a claim for the death of claimant's husband as a result of Neisseria meningitides shortly after he returned from a business trip to Brazil, the appellate court upheld the Workers' Compensation Commission's reversal of the arbitrator's denial of compensation based on the finding that the wife, as special administrator, failed to prove that her husband's death was caused by his exposure to the disease during the business trip, and the trial court's judgment confirming the Commission's finding that the special administrator did prove by a preponderance of the evidence that her husband contracted the disease during his business trip was affirmed, since the Commission's decision was not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence.
For Appellant(s): Michael E. Rusin, Jigar S. Desai, Rusin, Maciorowski & Friedman, Ltd., Chicago, IL.
For Appellee(s): Anthony Cuda, Cuda Law Offices, Ltd., Oak Park, IL.
JUSTICE STEWART delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Holdridge and Justices Hoffman, Hudson, and Harris concurred in the judgment and opinion.
[¶1] This matter involves a claim under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act (the Act) (820 ILCS 310/1 et seq. (West 2006)) and the Workers' Occupational Diseases Act (Occupational Diseases Act) (820 ILCS 310/1 et seq. (West 2006)) filed by E. Belinda Bauer, wife and special administrator for Craig Bauer (employee), for benefits in connection with the death of the employee due to alleged exposure to Neisseria meningitides while on a business trip to Brazil for the employer, Omron Electronics. The arbitrator denied compensation finding that the special administrator had not proven causation and exposure arising out of and in the course of the decedent's employment with the employer. The special administrator appealed to the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission). The Commission unanimously reversed the arbitrator's decision and held that the special administrator had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the employee had contracted Neisseria meningitides during his business trip to Brazil. The employer filed a timely petition for review in the circuit court of Cook County which confirmed the Commission's decision. The employer appeals.
[¶3] The following factual recitation is taken from the evidence presented at the arbitration hearing conducted on May 24, 2011.
[¶4] The special administrator testified that the employee had worked for the employer for four years as the company's president and chief operating officer. She testified that the employee traveled to China and Japan on June 7 through June 14, 2006. He then returned to Chicago and worked from his office in Schaumburg. The employee's travel itinerary was admitted into evidence. On June 20, 2006, he left Chicago at 2:55 p.m. and flew to Sao Paolo, Brazil. He arrived at 7:52 a.m. on June 21, 2006. He left Brazil on June 22, 2006, at 9:50 p.m. and arrived in Chicago at 9:30 a.m. on June 23, 2006.
[¶5] The special administrator testified that when the employee returned home on June 23, 2006, she noticed that he was pale. They drove to their second home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Instead of going out to dinner like they normally did, they opted to eat at home because the employee did not feel well. She stated that the employee was very tired, felt a little achy, and thought he might have the flu. On June 24, 2006, the employee awoke early and went to have his hair cut. When he returned home he laid on the couch because he had a fever and was feeling very achy. She testified that throughout the day he continued to get worse. By late afternoon he developed little black spots
all over his face and down his arms. The employee asked the special administrator to take him to the hospital. She took him to the Mercy Walworth Hospital and Medical Center emergency room in Walworth, Wisconsin. By the time they arrived at the hospital the employee's rash had spread all over his body. The employee continued to get worse and the medical staff decided to move him to an intensive care unit in Janesville, Wisconsin. He was taken by ambulance to St. Mercy Health System in Janesville, Wisconsin. He died there on June 25, 2006. The special administrator testified that the employee died of Neisseria bacterial meningitis.
[¶6] The medical records from the Mercy Walworth Hospital and Medical Center emergency department were admitted into evidence. In patient notes written by Dr. Kevin Parciak, he noted that the employee was examined on June 24, 2006, for a complaint of a rash. The employee told Dr. Parciak that he had started to feel some mild upper respiratory tract illness symptoms approximately one week prior consisting of general malaise, nonproductive cough, and intermittent low-grade temperatures. He told Dr. Parciak that his symptoms had improved somewhat over the course of the week. The employee reported that at about 5:00 p.m. on June 24, 2006, reddish-purplish spots started appearing on his bilateral lower extremities and gradually ascended throughout the rest of his body over the course of the ensuing hours up until the time of presentation. The employee told Dr. Parciak that his only medication was Mucinex that he started taking that afternoon for a cough. The employee denied any specific bug bites, exposure to exotic foods, or exposure to any sick contacts specifically when travelling. Dr. Parciak noted diffuse nonpalpable purpuric rash lesions. His impression was purpuric rash due to infectious etiology. Dr. Parciak wrote that he " entertained the possibility of this patient having meningococcemia," but did not have a " high suspicion" of meningitis because the employee did not have a significant headache, neck pain, neck stiffness, or photophobia, although meningitis was still possible. He opined that it was likely that the employee was " septic from some unknown bacteria or viral cause which is especially concerning because of his recent travel history." The ambulance was contacted to transport the employee to St. Mercy Health System in Janesville, Wisconsin, and Dr. Parciak noted that the employee did not exhibit any signs of deterioration.
[¶7] Dr. Badar Kanwar treated the employee on June 25, 2006, at St. Mercy Health System in Janesville. In his patient notes he wrote that the employee had been sick with cold like symptoms since he returned from Japan, but that he only developed a rash, generalized malaise, and weakness that day. When the employee arrived at the hospital after transfer from the emergency room at Mercy Walworth Hospital and Medical Center, he was able to talk and answer Dr. Kanwar's questions appropriately. Dr. Kanwar noted that the employee appeared to be in respiratory distress. The employee appeared very cyanotic and had a diffuse purpuric rash all over his body. He wrote that the employee was intubated and sedated when he became bradycardic, went into asystole, and died. Unsuccessful efforts were made to resuscitate the employee. Dr. Kanwar noted that his total time caring for the employee was 90 minutes.
[¶8] The autopsy report from St. Mercy Health System in Janesville was admitted into evidence. The final diagnosis was hemorrhagic adrenals consistent with Waterhouse-Friderichsen Syndrome, and pre-mortem blood culture positive for Neisseria meningitides.
[¶9] Dr. Charles Stratton testified by evidence deposition on behalf of the special administrator. He is the clinical director of the microbiology laboratory, an associate professor of pathology and medicine, and an associate director of the pathology residency program at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He is board certified in internal medicine, infectious diseases, medical microbiology, and public health and medical microbiology. He testified that he had treated people with Neisseria meningitides since 1971.
[¶10] Dr. Stratton testified that he had reviewed the employee's medical records from Mercy Walworth Hospital and Medical Center in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, St. Mercy Health System in Janesville, Wisconsin, the death certificate, the autopsy report, and his itinerary. He stated that the report from Mercy Walworth Hospital that the employee had a purpuric rash that was even on his palms and soles of his feet was very significant because one of the few illnesses that causes a rash on a person's palms and soles is meningococcemia. Dr. Stratton testified that the clinician at Mercy Walworth Hospital diagnosed the employee with disseminated intravascular coagulation which means sepsis syndrome. He stated that sepsis involves a cytokine storm which makes blood vessels leaky as evidenced by the purpuric rash. Once the employee arrived at the hospital in Janesville, the medical records indicate ...