Illinois Court of Appeal Reinstates Order Issuing Injured Truck Driver Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Back Injury

big rig truckIn a recent opinion from the Fourth District of the Appellate Court of Illinois, an injured employee filed an appeal from an order issued by a trial court, setting aside a decision from the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission that awarded her benefits. According to the trial court, the Commission erred in concluding that the claimant demonstrated a causal connection between her alleged injury and her job duties. In other words, the lower court determined that the plaintiff’s injuries did not occur as a result of her employment and that she was therefore not entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

The plaintiff worked as a truck driver beginning in 2005 for a period of roughly six months. Due to medical conditions, the plaintiff ceased working after that period and underwent back surgeries in 2009 and 2011. The claimant also reported experiencing fibromyalgia and received Social Security benefit payments for this condition beginning in 2010. The plaintiff reported experiencing back pain and foot numbness and was considering a third surgery, according to her treating physician’s care plan, in 2013, when she decided to go back to work instead. She resumed work as a truck driver in 2013. As part of her reinstatement as a truck driver, the plaintiff was required to undergo a physical examination, which she passed. The employer allowed certain accommodations for the plaintiff, who could only drive during certain parts of the day due to her fibromyalgia medication.

During a delivery that occurred in December 2013, the plaintiff slipped and fell on a concrete pad that was likely covered in ice, landing on the right side of her back. The plaintiff reported to the emergency room, where she was examined and ultimately discharged. The plaintiff did not return to work following the accident. The plaintiff sought medical treatment from her existing providers, who concluded that her physical condition and back pain prevented her from working as a truck driver.

On review, the appellate court first framed the issue as whether the Commission correctly concluded that the plaintiff’s damages were causally related to the slip and fall injury that occurred during her employment. The court then stated the prevailing rule regarding causation:  “[a] chain of events which demonstrates a previous condition of good health, an accident, and a subsequent injury resulting in disability may be sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove a causal nexus between the accident and the employee’s injury.” When applied to preexisting conditions, the court is to analyze whether there was a deterioration of that condition following the accident. The court also noted that employers take their employees as they find them, including any preexisting health conditions the employees have.

Based on the foregoing and after reviewing the evidentiary record, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s ruling and reinstated the award of benefits, stating that the work-related accident does not need to be the primary or sole cause of the injury in order for a benefits award to be justified.

If you or someone you love has suffered a work-related injury, you may be entitled to compensation. At Therman Law Offices, we have assisted many Illinois employees with seeking the compensation they deserve following a painful, disruptive, and debilitating injury. The workers’ compensation system is complex. We can assist you with each phase of the process and ensure that your rights are adequately protected at all times. To set up your free consultation, call us now at 312-588-1900 or contact us online to get started.

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