Circuit Court sets aside Permanent Total award and remands case back to Commission

In remanding the permanent and total disability award rendered by the Arbitrator and affirmed by the Commission the Circuit Court ruled that there was “a substantial sparsity of objective evidence . . . most, if not all of the physicians’ findings are based on petitioner’s subjective statements.” In this case, the petitioner, a 41-year old nurse, was assisting a resident when the resident fell backward on top of the petitioner on a carpeted floor on May 1, 2004. Accident was not disputed. The petitioner experienced immediate pain in her tailbone area. X-rays taken on that day did not reveal a coccyx fracture. Later x-rays, MRI scans and bone scans all revealed no fractures. The petitioner was diagnosed with a tailbone contusion but claimed extreme disability and never returned to work.

The Arbitrator based her permanent and total disability award on a September 26, 2006 letter to the petitioner’s attorney from a treating physician who indicated that he did not believe that [the petitioner] could work as she appeared disabled and could not sit or stand for any length of time.” However, the Arbitrator did not address the rest of the same letter, in which the doctor indicated that “he did not have any objective findings, either radiological or physical, to explain her symptoms.”  The Arbitrator did not comment on the seven medical opinions advising that the petitioner did not need further treatment and was at MMI.

On Review, the Commission affirmed the Arbitrator’s award, but included one paragraph discussing the mechanism of the petitioner’s injury, specifically whether the petitioner fell on carpet or concrete even though the mechanism of the fall was not in dispute. The Commission never addressed the disparity in the medical evidence finding that the petitioner suffered only a tail bone contusion.

The Circuit Court was very critical of the lower courts in its decision setting aside the Commission’s decision. The Circuit Court advised the Commission on remand to “weigh the medical evidence and draw inferences from the testimony of the claimant and exhibits admitted into evidence.” The Court noted that it was “concerned about the disconnect between the lack of objective findings and the subjective complaints of [the petitioner] together with the lack of discussion of this important factor by either the Arbitrator or the Commission.” The Court added that “the entire Decision and Opinion on Review of the Commission consisted only of the matter (not of issue) concerning the Arbitrator’s discussion in her decision concerning the floor of the nursing home, with none of the issues [raised] by Respondent being discussed.”

The case is currently on remand to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. Congratulations to Inman & Fitzgibbons associate Mark Carter for the great result.

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