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Holocker v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission

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

June 16, 2017

SCOTT HOLOCKER, Plaintiff-Appellant,
ILLINOIS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION, et al., Komatsu America Corporation, Defendants-Appellees.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the Tenth Judicial Circuit Peoria County, Illinois Appeal No. 3-16-0363WC Circuit No. 15-MR-343 Honorable Katherine Gorman, Judge, Presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE HOLDRIDGE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hoffman, Hudson, Harris, and Moore concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 The claimant, Scott Holocker, filed an application for adjustment of claim under the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 2012)), seeking benefits for work-related injuries he sustained on September 11, 2012, while he was working for Komatsu America Corporation (employer). Following a hearing, an arbitrator found that the claimant was entitled to receive temporary total disability (TTD) benefits from the time he was terminated by the employer until the date of arbitration, a period of 15 and 1/7 weeks. The arbitrator denied the claimant's claims for penalties and attorney fees.

         ¶ 2 The claimant and the employer each sought review of the arbitrator's decision before the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission). The claimant appealed the arbitrator's calculation of his average weekly wage and the denial of his claims for penalties and attorney fees. The employer appealed the arbitrator's award of TTD benefits and also appealed the arbitrator's calculation of the claimant's average weekly wage. The Commission unanimously reversed the arbitrator's award of TTD benefits and its calculation of the claimant's average weekly wage, and affirmed the arbitrator's denial of penalties and attorney fees.

         ¶ 3 The claimant then sought judicial review of the Commission's decision before the circuit court of Peoria County. The circuit court reversed the Commission's denial of TTD benefits and adopted the arbitrator's award of TTD benefits. The court also reversed the Commission's calculation of the claimant's average weekly wage and affirmed the Commission's denial of penalties and attorney fees.

         ¶ 4 This appeal followed.

         ¶ 5 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 6 The claimant worked for the employer as a "transportation operator" at the employer's manufacturing facility in Peoria, Illinois. His duties included operating a 40-ton overhead crane. On September 11, 2012, the claimant was operating the crane, placing together heavy steel sections for an oversized mining truck. Each of the steel sections weighed several tons, and they were secured by a chainmail strap. After placing a steel section on the mining truck, the claimant was retracting the loosened chainmail strap when it got stuck. As the claimant looked up at the crane to identify the problem, the chainmail strap snapped loose and hit the claimant, striking him in the face and chest. The blow knocked him backwards, knocked out four of his teeth (including three of his upper front teeth and one lower tooth), loosened other teeth, and caused multiple facial fractures and chest contusions.

         ¶ 7 After the accident, the claimant was taken by ambulance to St. Francis Medical Center where he was noted to have facial and dental fractures and a large laceration of his lower lip extending into his chin. Diagnostic studies showed multiple fractures of his right maxillary sinus and right maxilla, as well as hemorrhage within the right maxillary sinus, the loss of four teeth, and a left chest wall contusion. The claimant's mouth laceration was repaired and he was discharged with prescriptions for pain medications and follow-up recommendations.

         ¶ 8 The claimant was off work from September 12, 2012, until October 16, 2012, when he returned to work under light duty restrictions. On December 14, 2012, the claimant was released to work full duty with no restrictions. He was still undergoing treatment for his work-related injuries at that time. During the next 13 months, the defendant underwent four surgical procedures to his face and mouth to correct his pallet and maxilla and to prepare for the insertion of permanent dental implants. The claimant also treated with a dentist and underwent several attempts at restoring his teeth. Prior to the claimant's termination in October 2013, the employer paid the claimant TTD benefits while he was off work following surgeries.[1]

¶ 9 After his return to work in October of 2012, the claimant felt uncomfortable operating cranes and he asked his supervisor not to assign him any crane duties. For the most part, the employer accommodated the claimant's request. The claimant was reassigned to work a different shift in another building where there were no overhead cranes. The claimant testified that he "may have" operated a large, overhead crane a few times in late 2012 and early 2013. Nevertheless, although the claimant was still classified as a transportation operator, operating cranes was no longer part of his regular duties at that time. He primarily operated a fork truck.

         ¶ 10 In May 2013, however, the claimant was reassigned to his former job in the building where his work accident had occurred. The claimant discussed his fear of operating cranes with his new foreman, Ken Hoppe. Hoppe generally cooperated with the claimant's request to avoid working with cranes. Eventually, however, the claimant was required to operate a crane on two or three occasions. Each time he did so, the claimant experienced considerable anxiety, his chest tightened, and his heart raced. On July 3, 2013, the claimant experienced a panic attack while operating the same 40-ton overhead crane that had injured him. He was so shaken afterwards that he immediately visited the onsite occupational nurse, Lori Akers, and asked to be sent to the emergency room. Another nurse diagnosed an anxiety attack and took the claimant off work until he was cleared by his primary care physician, Dr. Alain Vilatte.

         ¶ 11 On July 11, 2013, the claimant treated with Dr. Vilatte. The claimant reported that, during the six weeks following his return to the same job that had caused his work injury, he had been experiencing increasing anxiety with palpitations, agitation, racing thoughts, feelings of losing control, and difficulty concentrating. Dr. Vilatte noted that the claimant was experiencing panic attacks and anxiety while doing his job. He prescribed an anti-anxiety medication and recommended that the claimant undergo counseling. He also recommended that the claimant be placed at another job while he adjusted to the medication.

         ¶ 12 Thereafter, the claimant asked the employer to reassign him to a different position. The employer offered the claimant a full-time janitorial position at its Peoria facility, which would not require the claimant to work on or near cranes. The claimant declined that position and continued to work for the employer as a transportation operator. He was not required to operate cranes.

         ¶ 13 On July 22, 2013, the claimant was evaluated by Dr. Edward Moody, a physician at OSF Occupational Health who had previously served as the employer's company doctor. Dr. Moody concluded that it was "the operation of the crane in question" that was provoking the claimant's anxiety. He cleared the claimant for full duty janitorial work and recommended a restriction of no crane operation for six to eight weeks if he returned to his previous position as a transportation operator. Thereafter, the ...

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