An Illinois Truck Driver’s Pre-Existing Conditions Didn’t Stop Her From Proving Her Workplace Accident Caused Her ‘Condition of Ill-Being’

semi truckFor any worker seeking to recover workers’ compensation benefits, one might hope for a clear-cut case in which the workplace injury unmistakably caused harm to the worker. Real life is rarely clear-cut, however, which is one reason why it pays to have experienced Illinois workers’ compensation attorneys on your side. An example of succeeding even without a clear-cut case was a truck driver who had pre-existing conditions but whose evidence persuaded the Illinois Appellate Court that the driver’s post-accident state of ill-being was causally related to her workplace accident.

The worker was a woman who worked as a truck driver for several months in 2005. She eventually returned to truck driving, working for the same employer, in 2013. In the interim, she had undergone two back surgeries, one in 2009 and one in 2011. Despite the back problems and fibromyalgia, she passed both the employer’s physical exam and a state-mandated physical exam for truck drivers.

Six months back on the job, the driver slipped and fell on ice while making a delivery to a distribution center in northwest Illinois. The driver’s doctor restricted her from working. In the following April, she underwent spinal fusion surgery. Even after the surgery, the worker experienced pain and numbness, walked with a limp, and was unsteady on her feet. Her doctor did not clear her to return to truck driving and also imposed lifting restrictions. By September 2014, the employer terminated the driver.

The driver brought a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. To back up her claim, she had the testimony of her doctor, who stated that, although the woman had some ongoing medical issues, she was “getting along acceptably well” right until she slipped and fell in December 2013. The fall aggravated the woman’s pre-existing back problems, according to the doctor.

The Workers’ Compensation Commission sided with the worker. The key issue in this case was the issue of causation. More specifically, was the workplace injury (the December 2013 fall) “causally related” to the worker’s subsequent state of “ill-being?” The commission explained that an injured worker can demonstrate causation through a circumstantial case that looks at her health before the incident and her health after it. “A chain of events which demonstrates a previous condition of good health, an accident, and a subsequent injury resulting in disability may be sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove a causal nexus between the accident and the employee’s injury.” The worker’s evidence demonstrated this type of proof, the commission concluded.

The Appellate Court also sided with the worker. That decision made it clear that, even if a worker is not the picture of perfect health before her workplace incident, she may still be entitled to use chain-of-events circumstantial proof to make her case that her harm is a result of her workplace injury. Requiring absolutely perfect health “would contradict years of Illinois precedent concerning preexisting conditions.” Illinois law, instead, does not require completely good health, nor does it require that the workplace incident be the sole or even the primary cause of a worker’s condition. As long as the workplace injury was a cause, and that injury caused a sufficient acceleration or exacerbation of the worker’s ill-being, the worker is entitled to use the chain-of-events principle to establish entitlement to benefits, even if she had a pre-existing condition.

If you’ve been injured at work, contact the skillful Chicago workers’ compensation attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein, Johnson & Bareck. Our team has been helping injured people get proper financial assistance for many years. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

What do I do when I am injured at work?, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, Aug. 15, 2017

Illinois Hospital Worker Wins Reinstatement of Full Temporary Total Disability Award, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, June 28, 2017