A recent decision by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (Ryjewski v. Humana, Inc., No. 03 WC 21947, 2008 WL 5538472, 08 I.W.C.C. 1404 (Dec. 22, 2008)) (IWCC, a/k/a “The Commission”) relied in part upon evidence that pain-killing prescription medication taken by an injured worker following back surgery led to decreased productivity at work and led the Commission to affirm the trial court’s decision that he was permanently and totally disabled.
In what appeared to be a “standard” back injury and surgery situation, the petitioner hurt his back at work, while employed in insurance sales. Ultimately, he underwent a surgical fusion after a diagnosis of a herniation at L1-2 with stenosis. He had previously had a spinal fusion at another level of his back.
The petitioner testified that his income and work productivity had dropped significantly following the surgery due to the constant pain and his need to take large amounts of prescription drugs (prescribed by his doctors) to attempt to alleviate the pain. He further testified that the pain constantly interrupted his thought process and that his job required a great deal of concentration and memory.
The Commission agreed that he was permanently and totally disabled as a result of the back injury, subsequent surgery, and prescription medication usage.
It appears that multiple factors were considered in determining that the injured worker could no longer perform this type of job.
In another back injury case, the Commission affirmed the arbitrator’s decision that a back injury was not compensable when the injured worker hurt his back while bending over to pick up his briefcase.
In Mata v. Dial Corp., No. 04 Wc 17270, 2009 WL 405288, 09 I.W.C.C. 79 (Jan 26, 2009), the worker came into the office, placed his briefcase and personal items under his desk and went to a meeting. When he returned from the meeting, he bent down under his desk to retrieve the personal belongings. Before even lifting the bag up, he felt a pop in his back.
The injured worker had had previous incidents similar to this and had a job that did not require significant bending or lifting.
The Commission indicated that had the employee bent to reach this bag and lifted it up and if the bag had contained something he needed for another meeting or that was otherwise work-related, the injury may well have been compensable due to his employment increasing his risk of injury. Further, the injured worker hurt his own case by testifying that he did not feel he had a “work accident” and waiting two years to seek workers’ compensation benefits, only after his long-term disability benefits had been denied.