Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District, Workers' Compensation Commission Division
from the Circuit Court of McLean County No. 13-L-50911
Honorable Paul G. Lawrence, Judge, Presiding.
JUSTICE HUDSON delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Presiding Justice Holdridge and Justices Hoffman,
Harris, and Moore concurred in the judgment and opinion.
1 I. INTRODUCTION
2 Claimant, Nanette Schroeder, appeals an order of the
circuit court of McLean County setting aside a decision of
the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission
(Commission) awarding her benefits in accordance with the
provisions of the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act
(Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 2012)). The
trial court found that, applying either a manifest-weight or
de novo standard of review, the Commission erred in
finding claimant had demonstrated a causal link between her
condition of ill-being and an at-work accident. For the
reasons that follow, we reverse, reinstate the
Commission's decision, and remand for further proceedings
in accordance with the Commission's decision.
3 II. BACKGROUND
4 At the arbitration hearing, claimant testified that she was
first employed as a truck driver by respondent, Swift
Transportation, in 2005 for a period of five or six months.
After a long hiatus, she returned to respondent's employ
in May 2013. She acknowledged that she had back surgery in
2009 and a second surgery in 2011. Her treating physicians
for these procedures were Dr. Wascher and Dr. Yazbak.
Claimant also suffered from fibromyalgia, and, as a result,
starting in 2010, she received social security disability
5 In January or February of 2013, claimant sought treatment
from Yazbak for a back problem. Claimant testified that she
"had a lot of pain" and numbness in her feet.
Medical records show that Yazbak was considering a third
surgery in March 2013 on claimant's lower back. However,
claimant decided that she did not want to undergo another
surgery. She took a refresher course in truck driving so she
could return to work. She obtained a position with
respondent, starting on May 30, 2013.
6 In order to return to work, she had to undergo a physical
examination, at respondent's direction. She passed the
physical. She also had a physical mandated by the Illinois
Department of Transportation, which she passed. Claimant
testified that she was "released" to return to work
as a truck driver in May 2013. She drove "big trucks,
" traveling across the country. At the time she was
rehired by respondent, she was under the care of Dr.
Fetterolf for fibromyalgia as well as ADHD. Because of the
medications she was taking for fibromyalgia, she could not
drive at certain times of the day. Respondent accommodated
this limitation. From the time she was hired to the date of
her accident, claimant worked full time. She had four days
off per month. She lived out of her truck and had no home.
Prior to her accident, outside of her fibromyalgia, no
restrictions were placed upon her by a doctor for a physical
7 On December 19, 2013, claimant was making a delivery to the
Walmart distribution center in Sterling. It was icy. Claimant
dropped off her trailer to be unloaded and walked to the
front desk to turn in paperwork. As she was returning, she
slipped and fell on the right side of her back, landing on a
concrete pad. Claimant's niece, whom claimant had brought
along to help unhook the trailer, was also present. Claimant
noted that her elbow, wrist, and shoulder were black and
blue. She could not move her left arm. Some other truckers
helped her into her truck. She was "in a lot of
pain." After 20 to 30 minutes, her back began to hurt as
well. She went to the emergency room in Sterling, where she
was examined and released. She subsequently sought care from
Yazbak. Since the accident, claimant has never returned to
work as an over-the-road truck driver.
8 Claimant testified that when she first sought treatment
from Yazbak following the accident, she was "having a
lot of back pain" and her left "leg was not feeling
well." She was not able to drive a tractor-trailer
truck. Yazbak restricted claimant from working. On April 10,
2014, Yazbak performed a fusion on claimant's lower back.
Up until this surgery, claimant's condition continued to
deteriorate. Claimant testified that her pain had increased
between the time she saw Yazbak in 2013 and the April 2014
fusion. Following the surgery, claimant underwent physical
therapy and received steroid injections in her back. At the
time of the arbitration hearing, claimant was still in
Yazbak's care. On September 15, 2014, Yazbak completed a
written form regarding claimant's condition. It indicated
claimant needed follow-up treatment, and it stated that
claimant could not return to her job as a truck driver.
Claimant testified that she continues to experience pain in
her leg and numbness in her big toe. She has no feeling in
her big toe, top of her foot, and the side of her left leg up
to her knee. Claimant limps and is unsteady on her feet.
Yazbak has imposed lifting restrictions. Claimant testified
that respondent terminated her on September 16, 2014. They
have not offered her any employment within her restrictions.
9 On cross-examination, claimant acknowledged that on April
7, 2014, she was examined by Dr. Lami on respondent's
behalf. Claimant agreed that Yazbak had diagnosed her with a
degenerative lumbar condition. Prior to the accident,
claimant had had a number of X rays and an MRI of her back.
After the accident, Yazbak ordered X rays and an MRI as well.
Yazbak recommended surgery in February 2013; however,
claimant declined this recommendation as she wished to return
to truck driving.
10 Claimant acknowledged that in February 2005, she was in a
motor-vehicle accident and was admitted to the hospital with
pain and tenderness in her lower back. In 2009, claimant had
a L4/L5 fusion, which was performed by Dr. Praycek. In 2011,
Dr. Wascher performed a discectomy as well. She was not
working at the time either surgery was performed. Claimant
was referred to Yazbak in 2013 for lower-back pain. Before he
recommended surgery, claimant underwent physical therapy and
cortisone injections. At the time of the hearing, claimant
was trying to find a job driving a local delivery truck.
11 On redirect-examination, claimant stated that following
her decision to decline surgery in the spring of 2013, she
was able to drive a truck on a daily basis. She also
explained that a local delivery job was different than
driving a tractor-trailer over the road because she would not
have to unhook the trailer for loading ...