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Mytnik v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Workers' Compensation Commission Division

November 10, 2016

MARK MYTNIK, Appellant,

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 14-L-50836; the Hon. Carl Anthony Walker, Judge, presiding.

         Judgment reversed, and arbitrator's decision reinstated.

          James S. Hamman, of Newman, Boyer & Statham, Ltd., of Tinley Park, for appellant.

          Julie M. Tenuto and Timothy S. McNally, of Wiedner & McAuliffe, Ltd., of Chicago, for appellee.

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



         ¶ 1 On June 23, 2009, claimant, Mark Mytnik, filed an application for adjustment of claim pursuant to the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 to 30 (West 2008)), seeking benefits from the employer, Ford Motor Company, for injury to his back caused by "[e]xcessive twisting and bending on job." Following a hearing, the arbitrator found claimant sustained a compensable injury and awarded him benefits under the Act. On review, the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) reversed the decision of the arbitrator, finding that claimant failed to establish his injury arose out of and in the course of his employment. On judicial review, the circuit court confirmed the Commission's decision. This appeal followed.

         ¶ 2 On appeal, claimant challenges the Commission's finding that he failed to prove an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment. We reverse the circuit court's judgment confirming the Commission's decision, reverse the Commission's decision, and reinstate the decision of the arbitrator.

         ¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 The following evidence was elicited at the February 25, 2013, arbitration hearing.

         ¶ 5 Claimant testified that he had worked for the employer on the assembly line since October 1994. On May 21, 2009, he was working the "moon buggy" job, which involved installing rear suspensions on vehicles as they moved along the assembly line. The moon buggy job required the employee to stand on a platform that moved in a circular fashion, step on a foot pedal to raise the rear suspension up to the vehicle, reach back and grab an articulating arm, load the articulating arm with two bolts, and then raise the articulating arm up to the vehicle and press a button on the arm that secured the rear suspension with bolts. According to claimant, the moon buggy job required him to twist and turn to grab equipment like bolts and brackets and to reach behind him to grab the articulating arm. Claimant stated that sometimes the bolts would fall out of the articulating arm and had to be retrieved quickly to avoid the rotating platform from running over the bolts and jamming, which would result in the assembly line shutting down. When a bolt fell, claimant would have to "run down there, bend over, reach and *** pick it up before the [rotating platform] runs it over." According to claimant, if the assembly line stopped, "you would usually get reamed out by the supervisor."

         ¶ 6 Claimant testified the moon buggy job allowed approximately 48 to 52 seconds to install the rear suspension on one vehicle before the assembly line moved. He estimated that he installed rear suspensions on approximately 62 vehicles per hour. In addition, he had to lift approximately 20 to 25 boxes of parts per day that weighed "anywhere from 30lbs, a lot heavier if you're doubling them up, 70 pounds per box." Claimant worked on the assembly line 5 days per week, approximately 10 hours per day with two breaks.

         ¶ 7 Claimant further testified that he started his workday at 6 a.m. on May 21, 2009. At approximately 10 a.m., he "noticed [his] back was starting to bother [him]." Claimant explained that he had sustained a prior back injury at the employer's plant in 2002 or 2003. He continued to do his job that morning, but later, as he was reaching down to grab a bolt that had fallen on the assembly line, he felt "a real sharp, almost like needle pains down [his] right side, [he] knew something *** was just out of the ordinary." Within 10 to 15 minutes of this, claimant flagged down his supervisor, Zack Bozanic, and informed him that his back was hurting. After Bozanic found someone to take over claimant's job, he sent claimant to the employer's medical department. Claimant testified that once at the medical department, he reported sharp pains down the right side of his leg and that his back was bothering him. As he was sitting on a table, he noticed his leg started getting "a little numb." The report from the medical department indicated claimant was seen at 12:17 p.m. and lists the time of onset of pain as 8:30 a.m. The report noted that claimant was "working on the moon buggy and [his right] leg stays on the foot paddle and as the moon buggy moves it twists [his] body and now [he] has [pain] in [his right] hip." In addition, claimant complained of "low back [pain] radiating down the right hip and back of upper leg." Claimant was diagnosed with a sprain and strain of his lumbar spine and pelvis. He was given ibuprofen and returned to work. Later that day, claimant filled out an accident report, in which he stated: "moonbuggy move[s] and you have your [right] leg on foot [pedal, ] your [left] leg does not move so your body [turns.] I [felt] it when I was picking up bolts off the floor. Twisting of body felt pain in [right] hip and leg."

         ¶ 8 Claimant testified that he finished his shift, but when he woke up the next day, he was "in excruciating pain." He returned to work on May 26, 2009, and reported he was unable to bend, twist, or stand. Claimant was sent back to the employer's medical department, and from there, he was sent to Ingalls Urgent Care (Urgent Care). Medical reports from Urgent Care indicated that claimant noted "NO SPECIFIC TRAUMA, " but reported "that he was using a foot pedal repetitively with his right foot and twisting and turning when he began with right lower back pain that radiated down the posterior lateral aspect of his right thigh to his right foot." A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of claimant's lumbar spine was performed that day and compared with a previous MRI dated December 3, 2003. The new MRI revealed a broad posterocentral and right paracentral disc herniation at L4-L5 that was not present on the 2003 MRI and a preexisting broad posterocentral disc herniation at L5-S1.

         ¶ 9 Claimant testified that he returned to work the following day and reported directly to the medical department. According to claimant, he stayed in the medical department for approximately six hours. At one point, Michelle Gregory, the employer's workers' compensation administrator, spoke with him. Claimant stated that he told her his back "was bothering [him], " "there [was] twisting involved, picking up of stock, " and when he "pick[ed] up that bolt[, he] felt that sharp pain." Claimant testified that Gregory returned a few hours later and told him "there [was] no way [he] could have got hurt on this job" and that he needed to find his own physician. The report from the medical department stated that, upon observation of the moon buggy job, "[t]here [was] no bending, twisting or heavy lifting involved" and "[t]he case is denied as occupational after the above observation."

         ¶ 10 On May 27, 2009, claimant saw his primary care physician, Dr. William Luebbe, for his back pain. Dr. Luebbe referred him to Dr. Mark Chang for a surgical consultation.

         ¶ 11 Claimant first saw Dr. Mark Chang at Midwest SpineCare on June 4, 2009. In a letter addressed to Dr. Luebbe of the same date, Dr. Chang indicated claimant had reported pain in his low back radiating down his right leg, which began two weeks prior after a work-related accident "when he was picking up some bolts while working on an assembly line." Dr. Chang also noted claimant had a history of low back pain in 2003, but had completed physical therapy and had experienced no further back problems prior to the recent injury. Dr. Chang diagnosed claimant with an "[a]cute right L5 radiculopathy secondary to a new L4-5 disc herniation causing significant nerve impingement, [and an] old L5-S1 disc herniation not causing radiculopathy." He recommended physical therapy and epidural injections for pain.

         ¶ 12 On June 8, 2009, claimant first saw Dr. Rajive Adlaka for management of his pain. At that time, Dr. Adlaka noted claimant presented with complaints of low back pain with right side-dominant radiculopathy, which began after he "ben[t] down to pick something up." On June 9 ...

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