In the case of Bolingbrook Police Department v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, a police officer named Michael Toles injured his back on February 17, 2009, while lifting his duty bag from a location at his personal residence into his personal vehicle, prior to leaving his home to travel to work. The bag weighed an estimated 40 pounds, and contained a Kevlar helmet, gas mask, vehicle and criminal codes, incident reports, ammunition, handcuffs, and some other items. The injury specifically occurred in the following manner, according to the injured worker: “I went to go pick up my duty bag, and I lifted it up and I turned to go put it in the trunk of the car and my back gave out on me.”
The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission found that the injuries to the officer’s back arouse out of and in the course of his employment, and also that the claimant established a causal relationship between the accident and his back condition. In response, the employer appealed the Commission’s findings. In a split three to two decision, the Appellate Court agreed, and affirmed the Commission’s decision.
An especially interesting aspect of this case is the medical history of the injured worker that predates the accident. Records showed that he had chiropractic treatment of his lower back from 2002 to 2009. He also consulted with a spine surgeon, Dr. Nicholas Mataragas, from late 2008 into early 2009, including a key visit with that doctor on February 13, 2009, just four days prior to the work accident. Dr. Mataragas would later write that the February 17, 2009 work incident “…certainly could have aggravated [the claimant’s] condition and most likely did as it increased his symptoms to the point where he required surgery.”
As is common in Illinois workers’ comp cases, the employer sent the injured worker to a mandatory “Independent” Medical Exam, also known as a Section 12 Exam, with an orthopaedic surgeon. This “independent” doctor, “…opined that the claimant’s low back surgery was inevitable based on his condition on February 13, , and that the February 17, 2009, accident did not cause or accelerate the need for surgery.” This type of opinion is often, but not always, the result of such exams.
In this case, despite the medical history of a back problem prior to his work injury, the injured worker had a strong workers’ compensation attorney on his side, so he was able to properly fight for his rights, up to and including defeating the employer’s appeal of the original decision. If he had not hired an attorney, his chances would have been slim to none. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act is simply too complex, and the insurance companies have too many weapons at their disposal, such as aggressive defense attorneys and “independent” medical exam doctors.