Majority Affirmed Benefit Award for RSI’s Even Though Date of Accident was Nine Months After Claimant Last Worked for Defendant

Repetitive Stress Bulletin
August, 1997

A majority of the Illinois Appellate Court, Third District held that the Commission’s finding of a causal relationship between the claimant’s bilateral cubital and carpal tunnel syndromes was not against the manifest weight of the evidence even though the date of injury was nine months after the claimant’s last day of work for the defendant. The majority explained that prior to the date of diagnosis, the claimant had never heard of such syndromes and did not know his problems were caused by these conditions. The majority further held that the defendant’s contention that the issue of accident was waived simply because a box was not checked on the preprinted “Petition for Review of Decision of Arbitrator and Order for Transcript” form was clearly against the overall intent of the Workers’ Compensation Act.

The claimant worked for the defendant as a bakery factory worker for eight years in various capacities including tray stacker, bun slicer and checker loader. His last position was that of a utility worker and his last day of employment was Apr. 10, 1993. The claimant testified he first started having problems with his elbows and wrists in 1994. He was diagnosed with bilateral cubital and carpal tunnel syndromes and eventually underwent surgery. The claimant’s doctor opined that there was a causal connection between the claimant’s activities with the defendant and his condition of ill-being which was aggravated by the construction work he performed after leaving the defendant. The claimant settled with the construction company for 5 percent loss of use of each hand.

The arbitrator denied benefits finding that there was no accidental injury and that claimant failed to give timely notice. The Commission reversed and awarded benefits. The Circuit Court confirmed the decision of the Commission.

A majority of the Appellate Court held, first, that the defendant’s contention that the issue of accident was waived simply because a box was not checked on the preprinted “Petition for Review of Decision of Arbitrator and Order for Transcript” form was clearly against the overall intent of the W.C.A. The majority explained that because evidence pertaining to the issue of accident was on the record and such evidence was relevant to all other issues raised, particularly notice and because the parties argued the matter in their statement of exceptions and response thereto, the issue was not waived and the Commission did not err in its decision.

Next, the majority held that the Commission’s finding of causal relationship was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. The majority noted that the Commission concluded the date of accident was Jan. 28, 1994, the day the claimant was diagnosed by his doctor as suffering from bilateral cubital and carpal tunnel syndromes. Prior to this date, the claimant had never heard of such syndromes and did not know his problems were caused by these conditions. The majority determined that the claimant’s injury could not have manifested itself until his condition was diagnosed and he was made aware of his condition and the connection to the repetitive nature of his former employment with the defendant. The majority explained that the fact the claimant’s condition was aggravated by later construction work served to substantiate the treating doctor’s finding that the claimant’s condition of ill-being was caused by his repetitive work activities with the defendant. Also, the majority noted that the treating doctor’s testimony as to diagnosis, causal relationship and date of injury was undisputed by any other medical testimony.

Lastly, the majority held that the Commission did not err in finding sufficient notice, for the claimant never realized his problems were work-related or even what his problems were until after seeking medical treatment and his condition was diagnosed on Jan. 28, 1994. The majority noted that the claimant filed his petition for benefits on Mar. 4, 1994 and that the Commission notified the defendant of the claim on Mar. 8, 1994, clearly within the 45-day notice period.