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Schroeder v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission

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

May 31, 2017


         Appeal 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 payments.

         ¶ 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 condition.

         ¶ 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 ...

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