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Breaking the Chain of Causation: Blaming the Later Accident

November 2018

By Steven L. Miller

Hamm hurt his right arm on June 16, 2014. He hurt it again in two later job connected accidents, one on April 1, 2015 and the other on April 3, 2015. He filed three Applications, one for each loss date. The first was filed against “Pars” while the second and third named another employer, “Henkel.”

The cases were all consolidated and tried at the same time, with the Arbitrator concluding that Hamm’s right shoulder problems were causally linked to all three accidents. Accordingly, he apportioned TTD and the cost of medical care so that Pars and Henkel each paid a portion of the benefits awarded.

On appeal, the Commission agreed with the Arbitrator that Hamm had sustained three distinct accidents but concluded that the second and third (Henkel) were insufficient to aggravate petitioner’s original condition. Thus the Commission determined that Hamm’s overall condition of ill-being, including the entitlement to TTD benefits and the expense of all medical care, originated exclusively in the initial accident on June 16, 2014.

This decision was upheld by the Circuit Court of Peoria County on appeal.

Pars then took the case to the Workers’ Compensation Division of the Illinois Appellate Court. The issue for that Court was what impact, if any, the 2015 accidents had upon the development of petitioner’s disability.

The Court focused first on the condition of petitioner’s right arm in the period between his first accident on June 16, 2014 and the two accidents in April 2015. The Court noted that after the initial trauma, petitioner’s treating orthopedist diagnosed a right shoulder tear due to dislocation and performed right shoulder surgery consisting of an arthroscopic repair and placement of anchoring sutures.

Following the surgery, petitioner underwent physical therapy and work hardening. After work hardening, petitioner underwent an FCE in January 2015 which disclosed he could not, at that point, return to his previous job. The Court also noted that even while undergoing the therapy, petitioner complained of pain.

Though petitioner was eventually released to return to work full duty on March 11, 2015 by his treating orthopedist, he continued to experience pain and weakness on the job. The orthopedist continued to treat petitioner. In fact, petitioner had an appointment already scheduled when he was hurt with Henkel on April 1, 2015 and April 3, 2015.

Petitioner kept his pre-arranged appointment, and gave the doctor his new history which included the two Henkel incidents. The orthopedist diagnosed a SLAP tear and later performed a second operation involving surgical repair. During the procedure, the doctor removed an anchor from the first operation which had loosened.

The Court noted the treating orthopedist specifically testified that the SLAP tear after the April Henkel accidents was “an extension of the labral tear… sustained as a result of the June 2014 accident (Pars) accident.

While respondent also introduced expert medical opinion which contradicted the treating orthopedist, the Appellate Court found that the treater was more persuasive inasmuch as he personally observed the condition of petitioner’s shoulder during the first surgery. That view convinced him that the petitioner’s original injury had not completely healed as of the April 2015 incidents.

The Court also focused on the treater’s conclusion that petitioner’s “pathology (from the first injury) made him more susceptible to dislocation in the future.” Petitioner was, or so the Court concluded, in a weakened state, regarding his right shoulder after the first accident and that condition allowed the right shoulder capsule to pull away and the anchor to pull out in the later dislocations.

The Court noted that the evidence supported the Commission’s finding that petitioner had not fully recovered from the effects of his first work-related accident and that his condition after April 2015 would not have resulted “but for” the original June 16, 2014 trauma.

  • Chicago Bar Association
  • Workers' Compensation Lawyers Association
  • DRI - The Voice of the Defense Bar
  • The Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel
  • Chicago Bar Association
  • Workers' Compensation Lawyers Association
  • DRI - The Voice of the Defense Bar
  • The Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel
10 South LaSalle Street, Suite 900
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: 312-425-3131
211 Landmark Drive, Suite C2
Normal, IL 61761
Phone: 309-862-4914
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