Madison - St. Clair Record

Friday, April 3, 2020

Fifth District rejects tractor trailer driver's back injury claim

By David Hutton | Nov 17, 2017

General court 08

MOUNT VERNON – The Fifth District Appellate Court affirmed a decision by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission that the estate of an Illinois man failed to prove his back issues were linked to his employment.

Appellate Court Justice Donald C. Hudson delivered the judgment of the court in a Nov. 9 order. The panel also included justices Thomas E. Hoffman, Sheldon A. Harris, William E. Holdridge and James R. Moore.

Elnora Gardner, administrator for the estate of Kenneth Gardner, appealed a Madison County Circuit Court decision which upheld the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission ruling that the estate failed to prove a link between Kenneth Gardner’s condition and a work-related accident he suffered while employed with Buske Lines, where he had worked as a truck driver since 2000.

Gardner had filed an application for adjustment claim on Sept. 10, 2008, claiming he injured his lower back three months earlier, the ruling states.

Eventually, the case made its way to arbitration, with a hearing held on March 17, 2015. The key issues in dispute included the accident and causal connection as well as medical expenses and temporary total disability.

The incident occurred on June 10, 2008, when the decedent was injured while cranking the handle to lower a 44,800-pound load on the trailer of his truck, the ruling states.

Gardner allegedly admitted that he had a history of back problems and had been treated by Dr. Reza Jalal nearly a year before the incident.

A subsequent examination by Jalal in 2007 was inconclusive and Jalal diagnosed him with “low back pain with mild sciatic symptoms, most likely due to degenerative joint disease of the lumbar spine,” the ruling states.

Gardner saw Jalal several more times over the ensuing months before the accident.

After the June 2008 incident, Gardner was treated by Dr. George Dirkers at Midwest Occupational Medicine. According to the physician’s notes, the decedent said he had never had any back problems, the ruling states.

Dirkers diagnosed Gardner with underlying spinal stenosis, with his age at the time, 68, a contributing issue.

Gardner went to another doctor who performed fusion surgery on July 8, 2008. Over the years, he was seen by several other doctors.

According to the ruling, the Workers' Compensation Commission had received a response from Dirkers on June 30, 2008, in which he acknowledged that Gardner had been misleading about his history of back pain.

Hudson wrote in the Nov. 9 order that the commission had evidence that there were differing medical opinions, with at least three doctors concluding that Gardner’s back condition was the result of a natural progression of his degenerative disc disease and not related to the work incident.

Two doctors, including the one who performed surgery, concluded that Gardner’s condition was aggravated by the work incident.

“As noted above, the proper weight to accord conflicting medical opinions is within the purview of the commission, and its conclusions in that regard will not be overturned on appeal unless they are against the manifest weight of the evidence,” Hudson wrote.

In fact, Dirkers noted that Gardner suffered from “significant and serious” spinal stenosis prior to the work-related accident, which didn’t aggravate the condition, the ruling states.

As a result, the court unanimously affirmed the Madison County Circuit Court’s ruling upholding the Workers' Compensation Commission decision.

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Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court