Appellate Court Held That Commission’s Decision Denying Benefits To Truck Driver For Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Was Against The Manifest Weight Of The Evidence

A majority of the Appellate Court-Third District reversed the Commission’s decision denying benefits to claimant for carpal tunnel syndrome allegedly caused by the work as a truck driver, where claimant used his right hand continuously to shift help steer the truck and operate various ancillary hydraulic equipment on the vehicle. Also, claimant’s symptoms worsened in proportion to the amount of time spent operating the truck, and he had no prior injuries to his right arm or hand.

Claimant, a truck driver for defendant for 24 years, testified that he sustained accidental injuries in the nature of carpal tunnel syndrome which arose out of and in the course of his employment with defendant. He testified that he drove a commercial tank truck 50 to 80 hours per week. He further testified that he spent approximately 30 to 35 of those hours behind the wheel of the truck. While driving, he used his right hand to shift gears. In addition to driving the truck, claimant used his hands and arms to operate the pumps and hydraulics on the truck in order to load and unload the tanker. In the fall of 1992, claimant noticed that while driving, his right hand would go completely numb. At night, his hand would become so numb or painful that he could not sleep. He was subsequently diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome.

The arbitrator found claimant entitled to 2-4/7 weeks of temporary total disability and $3,111 in medical expenses and that he sustained a 20 percent loss of use of the right hand under section 8(e) of the Workers’ Compensation Act. In a decision reported at 6ILWCLB 1077, the Commission reversed, finding that claimant failed to prove he manifested accidental injuries arising out of and in the course of his employment with defendant or that his current condition was casually related to his truck driving duties. The Commission noted that at the time claimant began complaining about right arm and hand pain he was also in the midst of remodeling five rooms in his house using a skill saw and painting. The Commission explained that these activities could also be categorized as repetitive in nature. The Circuit Court of Will County confirmed the decision of the Commission.

A majority of the Appellate Court -3rd District reversed the Commission and reinstated the arbitrator’s benefit award. The majority noted that claimant used his right hand continuously to shift, help steer the truck and operate various ancillary hydraulic equipment on the vehicle. The majority further noted that claimant’s symptoms worsened in proportion to the amount of time spent operating the truck and that he had no prior injuries to his right arm or hand. Also, the treating doctor noted in claimant’s treatment reports that claimant’s carpal tunnel syndrome was directly related to work. In addition, a renowned hand specialist who examined claimant restated this conclusion without comment or contradiction. Based on this evidence, the majority agreed with the arbitrator’s finding that claimant’s condition of ill-being was causally connected to his employment.

The majority rejected the Commission’s reliance on the fact that claimant did remodeling work on his home. Even if these tasks, combined with claimant’s job duties, resulted in his present condition of ill-being, he was still entitled to benefits, for he was only required to prove that some act or phase of his employment was a causative factor, not the sole cause of injury. The majority found that claimant clearly met his burden.

The dissent contended that the Commission’s findings with respect to the medical records were correct and made it clear that the Commission’s decision was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. The dissent noted that repetitive trauma was uniquely an area of expertise of the Commission.