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Recent Appellate Court Decisions
In Dunteman v. IWCC, 4-15-0543 WC (4th Dist. 2016), the petitioner operated a truck which required him to operate a manual clutch with his left foot about 200 times per shift. The clutch did not engage properly so the petitioner had to strike the clutch forcefully with the bottom of his left foot. A few days after the alleged accident date the petitioner noticed a blister on the bottom of his left foot. The petitioner sterilized a needle and used the needle to drain fluid from the blister. The petitioner had pre-existing diabetes which required him to control his diet and occasionally take medication.
A few weeks later the petitioner appeared at the Emergency Room. The physician noted swelling below his left knee down to his toes. The petitioner underwent three surgical procedures to drain an abscess in his left foot and required a left third toe amputation. The petitioner was discharged from treatment and released to unrestricted employment.
Dr. Coe testified that the petitioner repetitively operated a clutch during his employment which created a causal relationship between his current condition of ill-being in his left foot and his employment. Dr. Chiodo testified that poor blood supply caused the infection to the petitioner’s foot and that neither the blister nor the petitioner’s employment contributed to his foot infection.
The arbitrator found that the petitioner’s draining of his blister did not rise to the level of an injurious practice. The arbitrator awarded TTD benefits, medical expenses, 20% of the left foot and 100% of the third toe.
The IWCC reversed the arbitrator’s decision and held that the petitioner’s drainage of his blister led to the infection which caused the amputation of his left third toe. The circuit court confirmed the Commission’s decision.
The Workers’ Compensation Commission Division of the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the decision of the circuit court and the decision of the IWCC. The court noted that the facts are undisputed on appeal. The Commission’s finding regarding causation presented a question of law subject to de novo review. The parties agreed that on June 21, 2011 the petitioner sustained an accidental injury. In order for an employer to be relieved of liability because of an intervening cause, the intervening cause must completely break the causal chain between the original work injury and the ensuing condition. The work related injury does not need to be the sole causative factor as long as it was a causative factor and the resulting condition of ill-being. As long as there was a “but for” relationship between the work related injury and the subsequent condition of ill-being, the employer remains liable.
The appellate court determined there was a “but for” relationship between the petitioner’s work related blister and his infection. Even if the petitioner’s draining of his blister was the cause of his infection the infection would have not occurred but for the existence of the work related blister. But for the existence of the work related blister there would have been no blister to drain. His employment remains a cause of his current condition of ill-being. The IWCC’s finding that the petitioner’s self-treatment was an independent intervening accident which broke the chain of causation was against the manifest weight of the evidence.
Editor’s Note: If a petitioner’s employment remains a cause of his current condition of ill-being then the event is not an independent intervening accident. The intervening cause must completely break the causal chain between the work injury and the ensuing condition.